Wilmington DTV switch may reveal flaws in plan

by Todd Shields, Bloomberg

Wilmington, North Carolina, switches to digital television at noon today in a test that may reveal flaws in a plan to shut off analog signals nationwide next year.

The coastal community of 180,000 households is hosting the only wide-scale test of the transition before Feb. 17, when major stations stop broadcasting in analog to 114.5 million homes with TVs. Most households have cable or satellite TV and will be unaffected. The remaining 9 percent of U.S. homes that rely on antennas will need to get digital TVs, subscribe to a pay service or attach a device that converts the digital signal.

The test will help officials determine how best to publicize the change and tell viewers what steps to take, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said in an interview last week. Broadcasters, federal officials, politicians and civic leaders have joined in publicity efforts throughout the five-county resort and farming region in and around Wilmington since it was announced May 8.

``It's been a grassroots initiative -- everything from going to blueberry festivals to Fourth of July celebrations to Rotary clubs and civic affairs clubs,'' Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said in an interview. ``You'd have to be living under a rock, or not watching TV, to not know about it.''

The change to digital was mandated by Congress to raise money by auctioning analog airwaves and to make way for mobile Web devices and better radios for emergency workers.

About 9 percent of U.S. households solely use antennas, Nielsen estimated in July. The National Association of Broadcasters puts the number at 19.6 million.

When?

A poll conducted for the association last month in the Wilmington market found 23 percent of respondents couldn't name Sept. 8 as the transition date, Shermaze Ingram, a spokeswoman for the trade group, said in an interview. Two-thirds of area households watch TV stations based outside Wilmington whose announcements tout the February date, Ingram said.

The Wilmington service of UNC-TV, the statewide public network, will continue broadcasting in analog, to avoid confusion provoked by the two switch dates and to make sure locals can remain informed during the hurricane season, said Steve Volstad, spokesman for the network. Saffo said the FCC assured local officials that stations could revert to analog in an emergency.

Some households using converters have complained that indoor rabbit-ear antennas don't pick up every channel. Others say the digital picture breaks up or the sound drops out. Volstad has suggested using an outside antenna is best.

article originally published at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aVl4AyXYscHw&refer=us.

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