Broadcasters Given the Go-Ahead for Flexible Analog Switch-Off

The FCC has approved plans to allow a gradual transmission to digital television. Analog switch-off is expected on February 17, 2009, but broadcasters will now be allowed to phase the old technology out, or terminate it beforehand, "if doing so is necessary to achieve their transition," the commission has stated. Full story below.

In a statement, the FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said, "The rules we adopt in this item attempt to provide broadcasters the flexibility they need while at the same time ensuring that any disruption to over-the-air viewers is minimized to the fullest extent possible."

There is still discussion of conducting last-minute digital transition tests around the US before the deadline, although one of the FCC commissioners recognized that it should have acted more quickly. "I recognize there may be legal, technical and practical challenges with planning and conducting such a test this close to the national transition date," said Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps. But I believe it can be done. At least—for the sake of a successful DTV transition—let's hope it can,"

The switch to digital is being made in order to allow police and fire departments access to public airwaves, as well as giving the general consumer a better sound and picture quality. There is, of course a downside: people with analog TVs will have to shell out for a digital TV, converter box or subscribe to digital or cable TV, a move that may not be popular with voters. The government is attempting to sugar the pill with $40 discount coupons to analog TV owners. [Reuters]