Border Wars

For most of us, the cut-off of analog over-the-air television broadcasts is a fairly cut-and-dried issue. On February 17, 2009, we’ll stop getting any analog broadcast signals. But what happens for United States residents who happen to live near the border with Canada or Mexico? TVTechnology.com has provided a good overview of the situation. As it turns out, there is good reason for some confusion about the situation along our borders.

Canadians who watch United States stations over the air will be affected by the analog cut-off; they’ll need a digital tuner, either in a new television set or in a converter box. As for the other direction, viewers in the United States will still be able to watch Canadian analog broadcasts, at least until that country’s scheduled transition to digital broadcasts on August 31, 2011.

The situation along our southern border is a bit different. “Border radio” has a long-standing reputation as almost outlaw operations, being brought to fame by the likes of John Romulus Brinkley and Wolfman Jack. These are actually stations licensed in Mexico with powerful “border blaster” transmitters that can reach deep into the United States. A similar situation exists with television; strong television stations south of the border are intended to reach both Spanish- and English-speaking audiences within the United States. (For example, a Fox network affiliate in San Diego broadcasts from Tijuana.) US broadcasters along the border are concerned that they will lose their audience in the United States to these Mexican stations after the analog cutoff date. Senate bill S2507 hopes to postpone the cutoff for United States stations within 50 miles of the Mexican border for five years.

If people weren’t confused enough about the transition to digital broadcasts (my HDTV Almanac entry continues to draw large numbers of readers every day), exceptions like these are only going to continue to muddy the waters.