Congress delays digital TV switch until June; Utah sticks to original cutoff

Deadline » Utah stations still plan to switch on Feb. 17.
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Most of Utah's television broadcasters still plan to shut off their analog signals Feb. 17 as originally planned, even though Congress on Wednesday passed a bill that extends the deadline to June 12.

"In spite of the fact Congress passed this bill today and it will be signed by the president, the bill provides provisions for us to go off on Feb. 17 if we notify the Federal Communications Commission of our intent to do so," said Dale Zabriskie, president of the Utah Broadcasters Association.

That means at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17, KUTV Channel 2, KTVX Channel 4, KSL Channel 5, KSTU Channel 13, KUCW Channel 30 and KJZZ Channel 14 will stop broadcasting their analog signals in favor of an all-digital broadcast.

The three holdouts are the state's PBS affiliates and a public station. KUED Channel 7, KBYU Channel 11 and KUEN Channel 9, the Utah Education Network operated by the University of Utah, will stay on until June 12.

"As public broadcasters, our primary mission is helping the public, but we will encourage people to make the switch as soon as they can," said KUED's Mary Dickson, who is coordinating the digital transition for the station.

The bill, which was passed by the Senate Thursday, was voted 264-158 in the House, passed mostly by Democrats in support of extending the deadline to give people more time to make the conversion to digital. (Utah's democratic representative, Jim Matheson voted in favor of the bill, while Republicans Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop voted against it).

Those viewers who are not prepared for the digital switch and have older television sets will go dark on Feb. 17. In order to make the switch, viewers either have to get cable or satellite television, buy a new digital-ready set, or buy a digital converter box for $50 and $80.

The federal government's $40 voucher program, which provided discount coupons to people for the purchase of a box, ran out of money late last year, which is the main reason Congress passed legislation extending the deadline.

Another reported $650 million will be funneled into the coupon program to satisfy the more than 2.5 million people still on a waiting list to receive a discount voucher.

As of Feb. 2, 12,596 out of 919,390 households in Utah with televisions were on the waiting list to get coupons, according to U.S. Dept. of Commerce statistics. Across the country, more than 6.5 million households aren't prepared for the switch.

Despite that, UBA's Zabriskie said it is too costly for stations to wait another four months before dropping the analog signals, and consumers have had plenty of advance notice.

"For two years people have been talking about the need for Feb. 17," he said. "We're of the opinion that on June 12 there will still be a lot of people who have not taken action."