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Despite Months of Planning, Digitial Switch Still Leaves Some Viewers Confused

12 Jun, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

TV stations across the nation began switching off their analog signals June 12 and started broadcasting digitally as the deadline for the switch finally arrived.

Newspapers across the country reported areas of confusion as people still receiving TV strictly via analog watched their channels go off air. The Greeensboro, N.C. paper quoted one local news station receptionist as saying dozens of people called in confused when that station switched to digital. “Right now, they’re panicking,” she told the paper. “A lot of people, they’re not ready.” The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported confusion among some viewers when stations switched channels along with the digital transition.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that as many as 2.8 million households nationwide, representing 2.5% of the population, will have no broadcasts at all starting this weekend, and will either need to begin paying for service, invest in a new TV with a digital tuner, or, the cheapest option, buy a digital converter box for their current set. At a Best Buy in West Hollywood, Calif., an employee said “tons of people” were coming in to buy the converter boxes, and that plenty were still in stock. In the Los Angeles area alone, Nielsen estimates a quarter-million households will have no TV when the switch is complete.

The FCC had more than 4,000 operators handling calls from consumers, and reported that more than 200,000 calls had come in by afternoon on the West Coast.

“I recognize the great challenge that today’s switch presents for many consumers. Even though the overwhelming majority of households are DTV-ready, we are fully committed to helping those who have yet to join the digital television age both today and in the days to come,” said Michael J. Copps, acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He added that the transition will offer consumers more free, over-the-air programming with higher quality, and will free up airwaves for emergency communications and wireless services.

“It has taken two decades to arrive at this monumental day, and 98% of U.S. households are already enjoying the benefits of digital television,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. “With 112 million DTV sets and more than 31 million digital-to-analog converter boxes sold, and 90 percent of Americans subscribing to a multichannel video provider, the vast majority of consumers are ready.”

Until July 31, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will continue to offer $40 coupons to consumers toward the purchase of a converter box, and is running ads with more than 700 media outlets to tell people how to get their channels back on their TVs. Many analog stations shut off June 12 would still be broadcasting a message explaining the transition. The NTIA is running radio spots as well.

“I recognize that during these difficult economic times, the switch to digital television may not be at the top of some families’ to-do lists,” said Gary Locke, United States commerce secretary. “That is why we continue to remind unprepared Americans they do not simply risk being cut off from television entertainment. They will also lose a vital means of emergency information if they do not get ready.”

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