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FCC chairman wants DTV transition to proceed as planned

Posted January 14, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission was in North Carolina Wednesday as part of a promotion of next month's scheduled change to digital television signals.

Chairman Kevin Martin held a town hall meeting at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh to discuss the change scheduled for Feb. 17.

Chairman Kevin Martin FCC chairman answers questions about digital TV

Martin and other members of the commission are visiting TV markets where more than 100,000 households rely only on analog, over-the-air signals. They are trying to get out the message about the scheduled switch so those viewers can be prepared.

Older televisions will no longer receive a signal after Feb. 17 if they depend on antennas. Viewers will need to subscribe to a cable or satellite service, purchase a new, digital-ready TV or install a converter box to keep watching television.

“We’re still trying to get [the] message out to targeted communities,” Martin said. “We’ve had lots of soft tests.”

The transition has been planned for more than a year. The Obama administration and others want a delay, saying many people aren’t ready. Martin puts the likelihood of a delay at 50 percent.

“I think any kind of delay is going to confuse consumers,” he said.

Martin said viewers to whom he speaks are aware of the transition date, but don’t believe it will actually happen. Based on what was learned from complaints when the Wilmington market transitioned last September, Martin believes a delay would just create more procrastination.

“I think that’s the kind of problem that could be highlighted by us telling everyone Feb. 17 for a year and then, at the last minute, saying, ‘No, we don't mean that,’” he said.

Proponents of a delay point out that the Commerce Department’s converter-box coupon program ran out of money, meaning many people who want to buy a converter are forced to wait or to pay the full cost.

More than a million people are now on a waiting list for coupons. Martin believes Congress just needs to take quick action to move coupons through the mail faster and to extend expiration dates for existing coupons.

“One of the biggest complaints I hear when I’m traveling is that people apply for the coupon and they either didn’t get it or they got it and it was late and the expiration date had come and gone … and they can’t apply for another one,” he said.

The transition has implications for broadcasters and retailers, too. WRAL-TV and other stations have added new antennas to their towers. Electronics stores such as Radio Shack are selling converter boxes and household antennas.

Martin said he thinks the benefits of the switch may be getting lost in the controversy over coupons and converter boxes. When it happens, viewers will get a better picture, better sound and more programming because many stations, including WRAL, send out multiple signals.

28 Comments

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  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Jan 15, 2009

    This is a scam being perpetrated on the American Public.

    The Government is forcing the change so they can sell the Analog Signal Spectrum and make money on it.

    The conversion is for revenue generation.

    It's not for improving the American public's TV experience.

  • fkhaywood Jan 15, 2009

    Analog TV that we have today dates from the 1940's when vacuum tubes were the norm. Each TV channel has guard bands either side of the broadcast band so that the channels won't bleed into each other because of the sloppy electronics involved. Digital allows the channels to be spacced closer together which allows more channels in the same space.
    A retired electrical engineer.

  • randywilloughby Jan 15, 2009

    How long have we known about this!!!! This is not old news. The transition has been known for a while. Just as soon as I found out about it I signed up for the coupons and got my 2 boxes!! Hey first come first serve. If you choose to drag your feet and let the funds just run out, then tough luck. This does not need to be delayed!!! I bet if they were handing out cash instead of the coupons the well would have ran dry a lot sooner.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Jan 14, 2009

    If we left it up to voters to decide which delivery method we go with, we would still be sending messages via horses. Most people can't possibly understand the technology behind it all. So they would never be able to cast an educated vote. Go digital NOW! Stick with the February 18th deadline. By the way, TV is a want, NOT a NEED! If someone can't afford a $40 - $50 Converter at this time, they can wait until they can afford it. And 95+% of the people whining and complaining won't be affected AT ALL. If you have cable or satellite, you don't have to do anything. You will still get ALL of you channels just as you do now, on your same OLD TV. So quit complaining and enjoy it when it comes.

  • scooperhsd Jan 14, 2009

    Get this DTV transition over with already ! It's like ripping off a bandaid - yes it's going to hurt for a bit, but it needs to be done. No matter how far you delay it, there will always be procastinators who will not be ready - let them watch static of scramble to get a convertor box.

    One other good reason to get it over with - WRAL will be back at full digital power that much sooner. I'm not having issues up in Youngsville, but I understand viewers southeast of the tower and up along and east of the I-95 corridor are currently having difficulties.

  • districtcadvocate Jan 14, 2009

    When we have a ice storm or major power outage all those that are relying on cable to deliver a signal to their tv will find themselves in a big problem

    After reading the other postings I think this whole digital mumbojumbo needs to be put on hold and let the consumers decide which delivery system they prefer and then the providers (stations) adopt those delivery systems.

    What ever the case anything that adds any additional cost to the household expeneses for the next two years is crazy as heck.

  • pleshy Jan 14, 2009

    Another couple of issues - with digital, you either have reception or you don't... no fuzzy or static, it is either on or off; 2. most antennae are VHF and the Digital signal is UHF, so the VHF antennae will not work.... ooops.....

  • readme Jan 14, 2009

    While I don't necessarily agree with the terms of this standardinzation and the technology used, I think delaying for the reasons requested is silly. If after all this time some comsumers are still not ready, those people should be doing something besides watching TV.

  • dcatz Jan 14, 2009

    ATSC is a poorly designed "standard" forced upon us by an illegal government in order to line the pockets of American corporations who hold patents over it. The government has interfered in the free market and is now dictating that every person who wishes to broadcast must use this "standard" and must pay these companies patent royalties.

    There are plenty of free non-patent encumbered compression codecs such as Vorbis and Theora that the government should have used. Either would be more efficient than the antiquated MPEG 2 compression used now (such obsolescence out of the box is typical of "standards" by committee).

    In addition, the use of 8VSB modulation was another in a long line of poor choices designed to further line the pockets of American corporations at the expense of everyone else. (Patents)

    Even the cable companies were smart enough not to use 8VSB. They chose to use 256QAM for digital cable and it provides twice the datarate as 8VSB in the same amount of space.

  • kimndarcie Jan 14, 2009

    My sister just lost her job and had to drop her cable service. I expect a lot of folks to have to do that this year. Maybe a delay makes sense in light of current economic conditions, especially since they are out of money for coupons.

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