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New Rules for Broadcasters, New Dispute Over Digital Readiness

Kim Hart

The Federal Communications Commission today set a few new rules for broadcasters as they prepare to turn off analog signals before or on June 12, the current deadline for the transition to digital television.

First of all, stations must provide on-air and other notifications if they anticipate that 2 percent or more of their analog viewers will lose service with digital broadcasts, even if the stations plan to gain viewers in other areas.

In addition, all stations must include information about antennas as part of their consumer education campaigns, such as if they plan to change from the VHF band to the UHF band, or if viewers may need additional or different equipment to receive a signal.

And stations must remind viewers that they will need to use the "scan" function of their digital televisions and digital converter boxes. That's because many stations will be changing service areas and broadcast frequencies, and viewers will need to periodically rescan to make sure they are getting all of the available stations.

reported this month that 3.9 percent of U.S. households are "completely unready" for the digital transition, down from the 9.8 percent that were considered completely unready in May.

The National Association of Broadcasters is disputing Nielsen's figures and the methodology behind them. In a letter to Nielsen, NAB president and CEO David Rehr said the reports classify as "completely unready" households that have purchased converter boxes but not yet hooked them up, and households that have a converter box coupon they have not yet redeemed, or have applied for a coupon but are waiting for it to arrive.

"While these households may be technically unready in the strictest sense, it is unfair and misleading to classify them as "completely unready," especially those that have already purchased converter boxes," the letter said. "This methodology and classification overstates the number of truly unprepared households, and given the weight and widespread dissemination of Nielsen research, these reports can contribute to an unnecessary level of concern that the transition is not going well among members of Congress and regulators at the Federal Communications Commission."

By Kim Hart  |  March 13, 2009; 6:15 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I would like someone to investigate and report on the inadequacies of current TV antennas and the costs associated with getting a signal comparable to the current reception I get on analog. For example , from Bethesda I currently receive Channels 66 and 56 from Virginia and 22 from Maryland. When I use the same antenna with the digital box I get none of these. Thank you.

Posted by: clarkw | March 13, 2009 8:26 PM

households that have a converter box coupon they have not yet redeemed, or have applied for a coupon but are waiting for it to arrive.

So most didn't "redeem" their coupons because they expired already (3 months to use it) and those still waiting are the SAME PEOPLE that couldn't redeem their originals and have since re-applied; the equipment didn't hit the stores until 2 months post coupon-introduction which dramatically shortened the window of opportunity...

Regardless of how many times they extend this transition, those that didn't apply and at least attempt to do it during the original time frame will hardly do anything for themselves this time around either...

THOSE folks are waiting until someone physically goes to their house, provides the converter for FREE, hooks it up for FREE and spends 4 hours explaining and training everyone and their neighbors on how to use the new remote control... Or why they now see channel 4.1, 4.2 or 7.3

You will NEVER fix lazy, so stop trying... Just fix the bureaucracy for the rest of us out there that take pride in doing things for ourselves...

Posted by: indep2 | March 14, 2009 5:38 PM

I have been digital-ready for 11 months, but yesterday I turned off the digital converter box for the day because of constant pixilation. It made over-the-air TV impossible. Other days, reception is ok with an expensive outdoor antenna. But the new system is simply no reliable.

Posted by: george11 | March 14, 2009 6:22 PM

Poor reception is easily the biggest problem with the changeover. The picture's much better IF you have perfect reception; but otherwise it's useless (compared to poor analog reception).

The nature of digital TV requires flawless reception. Any glitch that interrupts the data stream forces the decoder to either miss some data (pixelation and sound drops) or just give up, clear the buffer, wait for a new key frame, and then start constructing the picture and sound all over again ("No signal" and big pauses).

Reasons for bad reception:
1) I've read that broadcasters were told by the FCC in 2006 that they didn't have to reach the same number of people with digital that they did with analog. This is the thing I would most like to see an investigation of by the Post. If true, whatever the reasoning at the time, I think it is back-firing on them now.

2) Digital is mostly on UHF which is affected more by hills and other obstacles. (I'm curious to see how the summer leaves will affect my reception).

3) Some broadcasters have to wait for analog to go away before they can use their ideal digital transmitter power and/or location. Hopefully things will improve after June 12.

The Post reporters must all live in town, or at least have direct line-of-sight to the transmitters, since they have not spent much time on this problem, except to say "some people may need a better antenna" without taking into account all that entails.

Posted by: iMac77 | March 14, 2009 9:55 PM

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