Digital TV preview hints at problems; firefighters come to the rescue

11.Dig.TV.Blog.gif Last month broadcasters in Wilmington, N.C., turned off their analog signals, meaning that viewers of over-the-air television had digital television or nothing. This is a preview of the nationwide analog shutdown scheduled for 17 February 2009.

Local government officials worked hard to get the word out, and an estimated 97 percent of Wilmington residents knew about the analog shut-off. The local fire department sent volunteers out to help people hook up their converter boxes. It still didnâ''t go so well. Many viewers lost their favorite television channels altogether; of the 1828 people who complained to the FCC in the first five days after the shutoff, more than half of those had lost channels. Others called their local television stations to complain.

According to a team of students from Elon University, many problems were related to the antenna. One Wilmington resident quoted in a great blog post about the antenna problems said, â''I feel scammed by all these commercials and companies. If getting a new antenna was something they knew we might have to do, why did they not say our antennas would not work?â''

So it looks like my unhappy experience in trying to switch to digital was not, unfortunately, an aberration. Just making some rough calculations, I figure that 12 percent of the roughly 15,000 people in Wilmington who donâ''t subscribe to cable or satellite were ticked off enough to call the FCC. Nationwide, twelve percent of the 13.4 million households is 1.6 million. The FCC is going to have a really busy February.

And it might not just end there. In fact, I hope those volunteer firemen keep standing by. Back in August I converted my mother in New Jersey to digital; all went well, she got lots of channels, she was happy. I just found out that, however, in spite of my carefully written instructions, a couple of days after I left she pushed some button out of sequence and hasnâ''t been able to tune in a TV signal since; wonder if I should have her call her local fire department to sort it out?

For more tales from the digital television transition, as well as links to in depth coverage about digital television technology, see IEEE Spectrum's Special Report: THE DAY ANALOG TV DIES.

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