The federal government's General Accounting Office has figured out what the
rest of the world has known for months: Most TV broadcasters aren't going to be
broadcasting in digital by the May 1 deadline.
In a study released Friday, the GAO said it had conducted a survey and found
that 74 percent of television stations will not be on the air by the deadline.
As of Friday, the National Association of Broadcasters reported that
a total of 304 stations are broadcasting in digital, covering nearly 85 percent
of the country with one or more digital-television signals.
This fact is already known by the Federal Communications Commission, which
has been collecting waivers from broadcasters asking for at least six-month
extensions. The report was requested by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member
on the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.
"The GAO report clearly underscores the need for government involvement so
that the DTV transition doesn't permanently take on a `waiting-for-Godot'
quality," Markey said.
Markey has been pushing Congress to write legislation to spur the transition,
such as a mandate to include digital-TV tuners in all new TV sets.
But House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has
been clear that he would prefer to let the marketplace work, with some bully pulpit
encouragement from lawmakers.
The GAO also said the large majority of stations that will miss the deadline -- 68
percent -- are in the smallest 100 markets. Of those, 31 percent said they
wouldn't make the transition anytime this decade if the government wasn't
forcing them to do so.
Unsurprisingly, stations not affiliated with the "Big Four" networks -- ABC,
CBS, Fox and NBC -- have fewer plans to show high-definition programming and
to offer multicast channels.