Tracking the Digital TV Transition

digtv120-thumb.gifSince 17 Februaryâ''s date certain for analog TV shutdown became date uncertain and then 12 June, the digital TV transition has dropped from newspaper headlines. But things have indeed been happening.

For one, some 750 stations around the U.S. have already killed their analog signals; thatâ''s a good chunk of the nationâ''s 1759 broadcast stations. Continuing dual analog and digital broadcasts costs moneyâ''simply powering the additional transmitter costs something like ten thousand dollars a month; thatâ''s a lot for a small station in tough economic times. Most of these are non-network stations in small markets, but not all. In San Diego, for example, the shutdown included the ABC, CBS, and Fox affiliates. Major networks also went dark in Santa Barbara, Calif., Madison, Wisc., and Providence, R.I. The call centers reported that most people having trouble getting digital broadcasts were elderly, some simply didnâ''t know how to work the converter boxes, but some would need to repoint their antennas (wonder how that went on Madisonâ''s icy roofs) and others would need new antennas.

The FCC has released an online tool that will help viewers figure out, based on their zip code, what stations they are likely to be able to receive. This doesnâ''t take into account local obstacles like big trees or tall buildings, but it does look at some terrain factors and can help you figure out if you have a least a chance of getting the new digital signal. If you do, you can then plug your zip code into the tool at antennapoint.com; and select a group of stations you can receive (I had a choice between stations to the north and stations to the south; south is closer, but north has more channels); this tool will tell you how far you are from the transmitters. That's something that's useful to know if you go antenna-shopping; you'll need to weed through selections by range. (I just ordered a new, extra-long-range antenna from Amazon; still pursuing my quest to get more than two digital channels before the shutdown).

In terms of good news from the digital transition, thanks to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus bill), the converter coupon program has cleared its waiting list and is continuing to process new applications. It has also changed the rule that if you order two coupons and they expired youâ''re out of luck; you are now allowed to reapply. As of April 1, just over 55 million coupons were requested, over 54 million were mailed, and nearly 27 million were redeemed. There is no word on how many of the people who purchased converter boxes have attempted to hook up those boxes, how many were successful and are happily watching digital televison, or how many former broadcast television viewers simply gave up. Iâ''d like to seem some real independent research conducted on this transition; call center reports donâ''t tell you much.

For more of Spectrum's coverage of the digital transition, see Special Report: The Day Analog TV Dies.

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