Many local TV stations to go ahead with DTV switch

Reporters look at a Panasonic 103-inch plasma screen at the company's news conference at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 4, 2006. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About 40 percent of the nation’s hundreds of TV stations will be broadcasting completely in digital signals next week, even after regulators delayed a mandatory nationwide switch to “DTV” by months.

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday said 681 of the nearly 1800 television broadcast stations will have already stopped broadcasting in older, analog signals, or will by next week.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week voted to delay the mandatory change by four months -- to June 12 from February 17. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

The switch is intended to free up spectrum for public safety and provide better television viewing.

But the delayed bill gave television stations, which say they’ve spent millions of dollars preparing and educating viewers of the switch-over, the option to transition to all digital on the original date, next Tuesday.

Backers of the delay feared that 20 million mostly poor, elderly or rural households were not prepared due to a shortage of government coupons meant to defray the cost of converter boxes.

The major U.S. television networks CBS Corp, General Electric Co’s NBC and Walt Disney Co’s ABC, vowed last week to continue to transmit TV signals in analog.

But the networks own only about 100 of the 1800 or so broadcast television stations in the U.S., according to an industry group.

The FCC gave broadcasters a deadline of Monday, giving them the option to decide and reserve the right to review the decisions.

Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Bernard Orr