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Digital TV switch back on track

The end to analog television is back on schedule, though a reprieve would have little effect on local stations.

The switch to all-digital TV broadcasts, mandated by federal law to happen by Feb. 17, was poised to be pushed to June 12 after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the four-month delay on Monday. That was until the U.S. House voted down the delay Wednesday, coming up 22 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

For now, the transition deadline remains Feb. 17, which is good news to the stations that have been gearing up for it for years.

"We've invested a lot of time and money in the equipment and getting ready for the date," said Charley Johnson, general manager of CBS affiliate KXJB and NBC affiliate KVLY. "If people aren't prepared, it's no fault of the broadcasters."

Whether the date ends up moving, analog will soon start disappearing here in Fargo-Moorhead. Two stations will stop their analog signals on Monday, and others will by Feb. 17 if a delay is passed. The early termination of analog is allowed by federal law if viewers and the Federal Communications Commission are forewarned.

FOX affiliate KVRR, now simultaneously broadcasting in digital and analog, is turning off analog as of its sign-on Monday morning, said Kathy Lau, the station's general manager.

Prairie Public is doing the same on Monday with its analog signal for Fargo station KFME, said Jack Anderson, director of engineering for the statewide public television network.

KVLY and KXJB will go digital only one day before the transition deadline, at the end of the day Feb. 16, Johnson said.

ABC affiliates WDAY is broadcasting in digital and analog, according to federal records posted on its Web site, but it's unknown if it plans to end analog early. Mark Prather, WDAY general manager, could not be reached for comment. WDAY, like The Forum, is owned by Forum Communications Co.

If a delay is approved, the Prairie Public stations in Minot, Bismarck and Ellendale will also turn off the analog on Feb. 17, Anderson said. The issue is cost. Running the analog transmitters costs $1,000 to $2,000 per month. That's not in Prairie Public's budget, nor is the $60,000 in new tubes that would be needed to continue analog until June, Anderson said.

"We've been kind of limping along not making an investment thinking the 17th would be the final day," he said.

If viewers who use an over-the-air antenna don't have a digital converter, they cannot pick up digital signals. If the analog feed is gone, they won't be able to tune into the station. Johnson said he's asked local stations to participate in a joint calling bank to answer questions.

Not having access to free over-the-air television isn't just about entertainment, it would also take away a source of news and vital emergency information, said Duke Schempp, executive director of People Escaping Poverty Project, which is holding an information meeting on the transition next week.

"We're already seeing a lot of folks without a lot of technical knowledge," Schempp said.

The delay was proposed because a program giving out free $40 vouchers has run out of money and research shows 6.5 million households are unprepared for the switch.

Still, it's hard to say whether the delay would be better than holding the deadline firm, Schempp said. More time would be good, but keeping it as is would force viewers to deal with the changes.

"I'm a little mixed on that," he said.

If you go

  • What: Digital television informational meeting hosted by the People Escaping Poverty Project

  • When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 5

  • Where: Centro Cultural Building, 1014 19th St. S. in Moorhead

  • Info: Free. Call (218) 236-5434 or go online to