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Wilmington Verdict Is In

Kim Hart

At least, the verdict is in from the perspective of the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC released details today about how prepared viewers in Wilmington, N.C., really were for Monday's switch to digital programming.

Wilmington was the first market in the country to through the digital transition as a trial run so the agency could get a better understanding of how to make the process go smoothly when every other market makes the switch in February.

During the first day of the transition, about 800 residents called the FCC's helpline asking questions and looking for help with the switch. About 14,000 households in the Wilmington market rely solely on over-the-air TV broadcasts. On the second day of the transition, 424 people called the hotline looking for help.

The vast majority of callers were aware of the transition, and most were also prepared. But a lot of callers were having trouble setting up converter boxes correctly or were having reception problems.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the feedback showed that more information about how to set up converter boxes should be incorporated in the consumer education campaigns.

More than 200 calls were related to viewers' inability to receive the Wilmington NBC affiliate. Prior to the digital switch, the Wilmington NBC affiliate signal was available to viewers outside the television market as far south as Myrtle Beach, S.C., and as far north as Raleigh, N.C.. The Wilmington NBC station's new coverage area does not include these areas, based on the coverage footprint the station had requested.

Wilmington got the benefit of a lot of extra personal attention--so much that some critics have said it gave Wilmington residents an advantage over viewers in other markets. But Martin said that, while Wilmington got additional help from the FCC, it did not have the benefit of the $1 billion education campaign put on by the broadcasters that will soon kick into high gear. The FCC has said it will give extra attention to the 80 markets with the most over-the-air viewers.

The House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet will be holding a hearing next Tuesday, Sept. 16, to assess the status of the digital transition for the rest of the country. The Senate will hold a hearing on the issue the following week.

By Kim Hart  |  September 10, 2008; 5:25 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

You missed the best part; they had firefighters acting as digital TV repairmen.

Posted by: Hemisphire | September 11, 2008 11:32 AM

If the expectation of the general population was that the NBC affiliate would cover approximately the same area, how will people be affected by stations that will no longer service farther out rural areas? After all, the statements made by the FCC state "If you get a good signal on the analog, digital will work fine". If so many viewers are actually losing signals (in a relatively flat area with little to interfere), how can I expect to recieve any decent signals from 30+ miles away?
(I wish the FCC checked these websites and reviewed the comments left by normal people. They would then get a fairly straight-forward picture of how things are really going.)

Posted by: J Shaf | September 12, 2008 8:05 AM

I also went to Wilmington, North Carolina for the first full blown transition test-run.
You can read about my experience at the Wilmington test run on my blog
As you indicated, some people don't know how to properly set up digital converter boxes.

Our non-profit, the Urban Progressive Foundation has been actively working with seniors and other groups to make sure they are ready.
Denice "DeeNice" Rhodes

Posted by: Denice Rhodes | September 14, 2008 1:35 PM

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