David Goldman/AP

The Final Countdown: TVs Switch From Analog to Digital

June 12, 2009 07:30 PM
by Rachel Balik
After two years of waiting, all TV stations are now broadcasting digital TV signals instead of analog; many viewers are still unprepared for the change.

Switch to Digital May Leave Some in the Dark

The long-anticipated switch to digital TV signals from analog finally happened on Friday, June 12, at 12 a.m. Many stations had already begun broadcasting in digital. After a number of delays, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set up a number of services to help people, particularly the elderly, transition from analog by installing digital signal converter boxes. The AP reported that although the change has been publicized for two years now, a number of people failed to set up their TVs to accommodate the change in advance.

But the FCC has added more operators to answer calls to the hotline and has also established stations where demonstrations will occur for those who need help setting up the converter box. To address concerns for the elderly, a number of volunteer organizations will be offering their assistance. CNET reported that “volunteers from AmeriCorps, civil rights groups, and even firefighters” would be available to help facilitate the change.

FCC Chairman Michael Copps told CNET that although he had been initially apprehensive, he was pleased to see the nationwide collaborative efforts to make the change go smoothly. He cautioned that there would still be complications, such as poor reception, even for those who were able to set up TVs successfully.

Low-income families and those living in inner cities are also expected to experience difficulties with purchasing and installing proper equipment. Ultimately, however, digital TV is expected to provide a better quality signal, and will also free up much-needed space on the wireless spectrum. To ensure that everyone is covered, coupons for signal converter boxes can be used until the end of July.

Background: Switch to digital delayed, but millions are still unprepared

A May 21 “soft test” yielded 55,000 calls to the Federal Communications Commission from viewers who had been warned by a program interruption that they were unprepared for the switch. Most of the calls were people inquiring about the government vouchers designated to defray costs. But Nielsen Co. reported that as of last Sunday, approximately 2.8 million people would not be able to watch TV after the switch occurs.

The signal changeover was initially scheduled for February 2009, but the Senate voted to delay it after concluding that 6 million people were unprepared. Additionally, the government had committed to supplying $40 coupons to help consumers purchase converter boxes, but ran out of money to supply them. Furthermore, some lawmakers argued that there were actually 20 million people who would be left without working televisions. Although the number of affected people still looms large, the government now appears to be able to offer the necessary assistance.

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