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DTV Transition Eve: 2.2M Still Unprepared

Despite a four-month delay in the "hard" original broadcast TV transition and boosted communications efforts, more than 2 million U.S. households that rely on free, over-the-air TV remain unprepared as the bulk of U.S. broadcasters get ready to pull the analog plug tomorrow.

The latest figures from SmithGeiger LLC estimate that just under 2.2 million homes that rely on free, over-the-air TV signals run the risk of staring at a blank screen when the rest of the nation's full-power broadcasters switch to digital on June 12. The Nielsen Co. , meanwhile, says there are 2.8 million U.S. homes still not ready.

"There's been a fair amount of procrastination and last-minute adoption," SmithGeiger president Seth Geiger said this morning during a National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) press conference that included participation from other DTV transition stakeholders, including leaders from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) .

Geiger, who shared his most recent DTV transition polling figures, noted, however, that about 440,000 homes of the 2.2 million that remain unready have taken steps toward preparedness, meaning they've at least applied for government coupons good toward the purchase of a digital-to-analog converter box but haven't redeemed them yet. That means there are roughly 1.75 million homes, or less than 2 percent of all U.S. TV viewing households, that need to get their act together.

FCC DTV coordinator William Lake said the FCC has enlisted 4,000 agents to take calls (via 1-800-Call-FCC) around the clock from consumers who are having problems. The FCC has also set-up 500 walk-in centers and has pooled enough resources to do DTV "house calls" to as many as 200,000 homes.

"We know there will be some disruption over this weekend and over the coming weeks," Lake said, noting that the bulk of trouble spots are concentrated in the southwestern U.S.

But it's not like these folks haven't had ample time to get prepared. About 36 percent of the 1,800 or so full-power TV stations in the U.S. terminated regular analog operations by Feb. 17, 2009 -- the original transition date. Several other stations have flipped the switch since then, but the balance are making the move on June 12, the date settled on after the government approved a fourth-month delay because too many consumers still weren't ready and it needed more time to resolve backlogs and funding shortages tied to the DTV converter box program. (See Broadcasters Rally 'Round June 12 , 641 TV Stations Go Digital on Deadline, FCC Sets New DTV Rules, and New Rules!)

Cable subs that have TVs connected to a cable outlet should be in good shape. Most MSOs are on the hook to deliver "must-carry" TV stations in analog and digital formats after the transition. If they opted to go all-digital, those operators must ensure that all customers have the necessary gear (i.e. a digital set-top) to display those digital video signals on analog sets. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)

But for those that rely on over-the-air signals, more than 80 percent of the homes in early transition markets have reported getting better TV quality reception, according to SmithGeiger's figures. However, there are reports that homes on the fringes of digital broadcast coverage have been unable to obtain a viewable signal. Those signals are subject to the "digital cliff effect" -- consumers either get a picture or they don't. In the analog world, even a faint signal can still produce a viewable, albeit snowy, TV image.

People in those areas may need to purchase new antennas, adjust their existing ones, or run the rescan function of their converter boxes.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News




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