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Eye Opener: DTV Is Here!

By Ed O'Keefe

Will these televisions work after today's digital television conversion?

Eye Opener

Happy Friday! It's DTV Day, when Grandma may finally kick that old television to the curb as it becomes technologically obsolete. Though it's an important day for the television industry, it requires a coordinated government response from the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Privately, Obama administration officials boast they have done more in the last six months to close the digital TV gap than the Bush White House ever did. When President Obama took office earlier this year, 6.5 million television households were not ready for the big switch, compared to figures released this week suggesting 2.8 million households remain unprepared. Maybe it's because people took more notice as the first then new deadline approached. It's also still a big chunk of the American viewing audience on the verge of no access to "American Idol," "Law and Order" repeats and The Eye's personal favorite, "Entourage."

"At the end of this long-awaited and troubled transition, the government will have made $20 billion from the sale of the old analog airwaves, the telecommunications industry will be able to offer brand-new, high-speed wireless services, and public-safety officials will get access to airwaves for a new nationwide communications network," The Post's Kim Hart reports.

"Much of the government's education campaign focused on just getting consumers to buy converters boxes. Critics say officials waited too long to tell viewers that they will likely need a new antenna and will have to scan frequently for channels.

"More than one-third of the callers to the Federal Communications Commission's DTV call centers have cited reception problems."

So what will the government do?

FCC operators will be standing by all weekend at a Gettysburg, Pa. call center to address reception concerns and NTIA operators in Portland, Ore. will take calls for the coupons for digital converter boxes, expected to arrive within nine days of the initial call.

Together, the two agencies have distributed 59 million $40 coupons for converter boxes and will continue to do so through late July. They opened more than 600 walk-in centers providing in-person assistance, recruited neighborhood firefighters and AmeriCorps volunteers to help install converter boxes and made Gary Locke a radio and TV star.

The commerce secretary has worked a campaign-like media schedule, reminding Americans to call for coupons and check their rabbit ears ahead of today's switch. He's done everything from chat up Phoenix morning television anchors and radio hosts Tom Joyner and El Piolin. Thursday afternoon he even took his advocacy to BET's hit music show "106th and Park," hoping to convince younger cable viewers to make sure older relatives and neighbors are ready.

"The twice-delayed transition to all-digital television has been in the works for more than two decades and, when all is said and done, will have cost nearly $4 billion," Hart notes.

Will it all work? Pardon the pun, but ... Stay Tuned.

UPDATE: Reader Lowell3 makes an important point in the comments section below: "Entourage" (The Eye's favorite show) is a cable program, whereas the digital transition really only impacts broadcast stations. What's The Eye's favorite broadcast offering, you ask? "The Big Bang Theory."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: Kathleen Sebelius tours a "paperless hospital" in Omaha today. It's Spy vs. Spy in Washington. Might Robert Gates replace James Jones as national security adviser? More campaign donors named to overseas embassies. Senators press HUD's Shaun Donovan on FHA troubles. Peter Orszag discusses health care (on video). Cabinet secretaries will skip this weekend's U.S. Conference of Mayors due to union concerns. OPM's John Berry calls for more action on gay rights.

IRS Weighs Rules for Taxing Private Use of Work Cellphones: The IRS is weighing a proposal to deem one-quarter of employees' use of work cellphones as personal use and therefore subject to tax as a fringe benefit. @#$#!

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Senate Passes Bill to Let FDA Regulate Tobacco: For the 20 percent of Americans who smoke, the law will mean confronting more graphic warnings of the risks of their habit every time they pick up a pack.

Sick Leave Fix is Not Likely to Reappear in Tobacco Bill: Despite lobbying by federal employee groups, a provision allowing some government workers to count unused sick leave toward their retirement is unlikely to be reinserted into the big bill.

A New Surgeon General?: Al Kamen reports it could be the wife of a Massachusetts congressman.

Interior Orders Air Review of 77 Utah Oil, Gas Leases: The announcement is likely to be mixed news for the oil industry, reviving hopes for access in the area, but also further delaying exploration.

Poultry Is No. 1 Source of Outbreaks, According to C.D.C. Report: Feeling sick? If so, the cause might have been bad chicken.

DOD Expected to Announce Cyber Command Monday: Defense deputy secretary William Lynn is scheduled to speak June 15 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, where he will make the announcement.

Obama Removes AmeriCorps's IG in Spat With Friend: The president's move follows an investigation by IG Gerald Walpin of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is an Obama supporter and former NBA basketball star.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 12, 2009; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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I'm glad to see Obama taking all the credit for saving the millions of idiots from being disgraced by their own stupidity. It wasn't enough that Bush gave away millions in coupons for everybodies converter box, but Obama had to do it again so he could take the credit for peoples lazy ignorance.
Maybe we should have employed a few thousand technicians and just had them deliver and install the converter boxes in every home the first time and saved money.

Posted by: jhnjdy | June 12, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

what! you mean ACORN didn't didn't attach one to the biggy! dead people don't have much use for TV.

Posted by: JWx2 | June 12, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I also enjoy Entourage, but the use of it as an example of the potential consequence of the DTV transition may only serve to confuse TV Watchers. As the Federal Eye knows (but what continutes to confuse some TV Watchers), the digital transition only affects viewers that get their recpetion over-the-air. Cable viewers will be unaffected. Since one can only watch Entourage on cable (HBO doesn't broadcast over-the-air), not one viewer is at risk of missing an episode of Entourage.

Posted by: Lowell3 | June 12, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Why are TV sets 5 times more expensive now than they were 10 years ago???? It used to be you could easily pick up a decent set for under $90. What's wrong with a digital tube TV? Nothing! But instead, the electronics industry has rammed down everyone's throats the need for these shoddy flat screen TVs that suffer the same problems as laptop monitors- that whole thing where you can't look at the screen unless you're at the right angle. I mean really, how's this progress and why do I care whether my TV is 2 inches or a foot deep if I'm placing it in the same cabinet- or 10 pounds versus 50 pounds if I'm never going to pick up in its lifetime? Seriously, what a stupid thing to expect the consumer to flip the bill so that the FCC can auction off more wavelength.

Posted by: slomiamg | June 12, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

The Digital TV transition is no trouble at all if your cables are correctly polarized. Go to Screen 47 of the DTV Converter Box On-Screen Installation Guide and use the resident GPS to correctly align your antenna for each channel, allowing for local ionospheric conditions, and ARRRGGGHH!

Technical reference:

Posted by: MikeLicht | June 12, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

The party line was that over-the-air signals only may be affected by the DTV switch and that cable or satellite would not. I had the reverse problem. After retuning my TV for digital over-the-air local broadcasting, I lost my Dish satellite TV reception. I spent one and one-half hours on the phone with the Dish technition doing workarounds before finally getting my Dish satellite service to work. That's a problem they never warned us about.

Posted by: treefarmer1 | June 13, 2009 6:40 AM | Report abuse

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