15 June, 2009

Americans can see clearly now...

The switch from analogue to digital went smoother than expected, says FCC


American households proved mostly ready for the transition, with the FCC receiving only some 400,000 calls over the weekend from those confused about the move.

LOS ANGELES - As the clock ticked down to midnight on Friday, the deadline for the decade-long US$2-billion ($2.9-billion) effort for local television stations in the United States to stop broadcasting in analogue and to usher in a new era of crystal-clear digital television, the calls started to pour in - but there were far fewer than expected.

An estimated 400,000 calls were received by a federal hotline over from people confused about the move to drop analogue TV signals and broadcast only in digital.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that the help line received about 317,450 calls on Friday and 102,000 on Saturday. This is well below the 600,000 to 3 million callers that the FCC had expected would call on transition day.

For most American viewers, the transition amounted to a minor hiccup at most.

But the industry estimated that 12 million homes had not installed the necessary converter boxes, putting them at risk of losing TV broadcasts altogether.

Across the country, TV stations set up help lines and community organisations held events to aid confused viewers.

Most stations didn't receive the flood of calls they had expected, a sign that the transition was smoother than many had predicted.

About a third of Friday's calls to the FCC were still about federal coupons to pay for digital converter boxes, an indication that at least 100,000 people still didn't have the right equipment to receive digital signals. Another third of the calls were about how to operate the converter boxes. And over 20 per cent of the calls were about reception issues.

As with the transition from typewriter to a computer, the digital TV switch revealed a number of unexpected side effects. Because digital signals are more apt to be affected by interference, many viewers in rural areas said they could see fewer stations than


"Digital signals are sometimes more finicky than analogue signals," said Mr Rick Kaplan, an FCC spokesman. "It may take some time to find the exact right position for your antenna."

A weakly received analogue channel might be viewable through some static, but the channels that broadcast in the digital language of ones and zeros are generally all or nothing.

Most American households now pay for TV through a cable or satellite company. They were mostly unaffected by the switch, which will allow state-of-the-art wireless services and emergency communications to exist on the newly available analogue spectrum space. But millions still watch free TV with an antenna, and they have borne the burden of the digital transition.

While TV is primarily an entertainment medium, US government officials are emphasising its use in emergencies.

The transition was originally scheduled for Feb 17 but was delayed at the last-minute by Congress and US President Barack Obama in a bid to prepare more homes for the switch.

The government has been providing Americans who rely on over-the-air signals with a US$40 coupon to defray the cost of buying a digital converter box.

The FCC has issued 59 million coupons for the converter boxes and will continue to supply them until July 31.

From TODAY, World –Monday, 15-Jun-2009

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