Diehard analog TV viewers have been given a reprieve. Congress passed legislation postponing the termination of analog TV broadcasting from Feb. 17 to June 12. President Barack Obama has yet to sign it into law, but he is expected to do so by early next week.
The legislation allows stations to go ahead and terminate analog broadcasting on or before Feb. 17 if they made extensive preparations and could have some difficulty altering their commitments, said Mark Wigfield, spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission.
In the Valley, only KTAZ-TV (Channel 39) and KPPX-TV (Channel 51) notified the commission that they plan to discontinue analog broadcasting Feb. 17. KTAZ is NBC Telemundo and KPPX airs ION television programming.
"Consumers still should move as quickly as they can to get ready though because it is coming," Wigfield said.
Had the deadline remained, all TV stations would begin broadcasting exclusively in digital signals, and simply using antennas to pick up local broadcasts no longer would be enough. However, it doesn't mean you need to go out and buy a digital TV, or spend a lot of money to keep watching free TV.
Instead, a digital converter box will be all that's needed to continue watching local broadcasting if you don't own a high-definition TV.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been issuing up to two digital converter box coupons, valued at $40 each, to U.S. households to help defray the cost of the converter boxes, which are available at national retailers and online. There is currently a backlog of coupon requests, so it will take some time for consumers to receive them, Wigfield said.
"If you have an analog TV set, and you're not on cable or satellite, and you don't have a coupon yet, unfortunately you really should just go and buy a converter box for your analog set, or another option is to get a very minimal cable plan that you can subscribe to short-term until you could get the coupon," he said. "You're not going to get a coupon before Feb. 17, but you will get one by June 12."
June 12 is the final deadline for ending analog broadcasts under the legislation.
"The network-owned-and-operated stations have all decided they will wait until June 12," Wigfield said.
Jim Cole, director of technology at KTVK-TV (Channel 3) and KASW-TV (Channel 6), said there's a lot of confusion out there with people unsure of what they should be doing to receive digital programming.
"A lot of people are getting their converters and not installing them properly, or they're getting them and not installing them because they think that digital is not available until the deadline, and that's not true," he said. "Digital has been on in this market since 2002, so it's available. The only thing that happens at the deadline is that the analog stations get shut down."
In many cases, local stations have a digital channel and an analog channel, and when analog is terminated the digital channel will be moved to the analog location, Cole said.
"Right now KPNX-TV (Channel 12) is analog on Channel 12 and digital at 31, and at the deadline they're going to shut both of them down, change 12 to a digital and bring their digital up on 12," he said. "KSAZ-TV (Channel 10), KAET-TV (Channel 8) and KNXV-TV (Channel 15) are going to do that. All the consumer will have to do is re-scan the channels and they'll be fine."