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One of the lesser-noticed headlines out of the Obama transition today is the news that the incoming administration is now supporting the idea of delaying the shutoff of analog TV beyond the scheduled date of Feb. 17, 2009.

It may sound like a good idea at first glance. It's not, and if you'd be so kind as to follow me below the fold, I'll explain (from an insider's perspective - I work in the business) why it's actually a pretty lousy idea, and why I'm sorry to see it becoming a partisan fight.

Here's how John Podesta explained the perceived need for a delay in the letter he sent to Capitol Hill today:

"The funds provided to support the conversion are woefully inadequate. Coupon demand appears headed to a level that will exceed that authorized by Congress. In addition, the government’s programs to assist consumers through the upheaval of the conversion are inadequately funded. There is insufficient support for the problem consumers (particularly low-income, rural and elderly Americans) will experience as a result of the analog signal cutoff."

Part of this is true - there are indeed some Americans, anywhere from 1 to 5% of the current viewing audience, depending on whose numbers you trust, who currently have some level of analog TV reception (often weak and fuzzy) but who will lose access to over-the-air DTV signals.

This can be fixed, but not by leaving analog TV on the air indefinitely. A bit of tech, if I may - over the last decade, the broadcast industry has achieved something nearly impossible, by giving just about every TV station in America a second channel on which to operate a digital signal, all in the same chunk of spectrum that was once believed to be as full as it could possibly get with 1700 or so full-power analog stations.

As anyone who's ever tried to cram ten pounds of you-know-what into a five-pound bag well knows, there were compromises involved. Some digital stations aren't operating at full power yet, while others are being interfered with by nearby analog stations on the same channel. Until analog TV signs off, TV stations can't finish the job of maximizing their digital signals. And they certainly can't get started on new technologies that might allow them to extend the range of their digital signals (there's one called "distributed transmission system," or DTS, that has a lot of promise) while they're still nursing aging analog transmitters along.

If you've read this far, you've realized by now that the DTV transition doesn't involve just "flipping a switch" between analog and digital. It's a process that's been underway for literally a decade now - the first DTV signals came on the air in 1998-99 - and it's been an incredibly complex ballet juggling transmitters and antennas to get digital on the air without disrupting analog service more than necessary.

But guess what? Part of that ballet was scheduling work crews and transmitter purchases and even the budgets for transmitter power bills with that February 17, 2009 deadline in mind. In some areas, analog stations have already signed off, because elderly transmitters have failed and the decision was made not to spend the money to fix them. In others, analog transmitters are already running at reduced power as part of the conversion to digital use. Those signals won't be coming back, no matter what Congress legislates.

The financial picture for local TV stations is not good this year. Budgets are tight in the industry, as you'd expect when you consider that the #1 category of ad revenue for most local TV stations is auto dealers, and #2 is retail. Continuing analog operation will cost money, and that will have to come from somewhere.

Which brings us to that coupon program. If you got one (or two) of those $40 coupons to buy a DTV converter box, where do you think that money came from?

Here's the deal: by going digital, those 1700-some TV stations in the US can be crammed into a smaller slice of spectrum. Instead of 67 channels (2-69, minus channel 37, which isn't used for broadcast TV), it'll all fit in 49 channels (2-51, minus 37). What happens to the rest of those channels? They're in a valuable part of the spectrum, because it's ideal for mobile devices, and much of that spectrum has been sold at auction to companies like Qualcomm, which is already using much of the spectrum formerly known as TV channels 55 and 56 for the "MediaFLO" service that powers mobile TV on your cellphone, if you're on Verizon or T-Mobile.

Some of the remaining spectrum may be used for new mobile technologies, including expanded WiMax, and possibly even free nationwide WiFi. But until analog TV goes away, it won't be fully available, and the businesses that have already paid for some of that space - and whose auction revenues are funding the coupon program - aren't going to want to wait forever to get access to it.

OK, so back to the concerns of groups like Consumers Union, which endorsed the idea of delaying the transition:

"With Feb. 17 only 40 days away, we are concerned that millions of at-risk consumers, including rural, low-income and elderly citizens across the country, could be left with blank television screens. Consumers have fewer resources than ever to buy the necessary equipment to regain access to essential news, information and emergency broadcasts. Against this backdrop, Congress should consider delaying the digital transition so the significant flaws in the converter box coupon program can be adequately addressed and sufficient local assistance put in place to help millions of consumers who are being forced to navigate this transition."

I agree with CU on one thing: the coupon program was flawed. There were delays in some simple things like making coupons available to residents of nursing homes and other group facilities, and the expiration dates of the coupons were set far too early, leaving some coupons to expire unused.

But as any good community organizer will tell you, there is no force stronger than procrastination. The coupons became available on January 1, 2008, 374 days ago, and the publicity around them warned, very clearly, that they were a limited-time offer and wouldn't be available forever.

The people who waited until the last second before the Feb. 17 date will just wait again until the last second before a later date - perhaps June 1, as some are discussing now.

And the broadcasters who have given up tons of airtime and publicity to get the word out about the Feb. 17 deadline aren't going to be happy about doing it all again for another deadline that might or might not hold - and about all the disruption to their schedules and business plans that a delay in the analog shutoff will bring.

For an administration that prides itself on being in the vanguard of technology, it's time to move forward, not backward. The conversion to DTV hasn't been perfect, but it's moving ahead on schedule, and throwing a last-second wrench into the works won't make it move any more smoothly.

I'll be around for the next hour or so (and then again later tonight) if people have DTV transition questions - I field plenty of them at work, so I may as well offer my services to my fellow Kossacks, too!

UPDATE: I put that poll there for a reason - I wanted to see how closely a Kossack audience approximates the national figures for TV viewership. At 72% cable/satellite penetration, we're considerably below the national average - but that's largely due, I think, to that 11% who don't have or want TV, and the 4% watching TV on the web.

The number I was most interested in is the 4% who answered the sixth option - they're still watching analog over the air and don't yet have a converter box. That DOES track the national average, and it's only those 4% who would benefit in any way from an extension of analog service. Everyone else who's actually watching TV - the 72% getting it from sources other than over-the-air, the 12% already watching OTA digital TV, and the 2% who don't care if their analog goes away - would not be affected by this proposal, if it's adopted.

Originally posted to ipsos on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:02 PM PST.

Poll

I get most of my TV...

42%96 votes
2%6 votes
13%30 votes
12%29 votes
2%5 votes
5%13 votes
3%8 votes
5%12 votes
0%0 votes
11%25 votes
0%2 votes

| 226 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  Yes, I agree with you totally (9+ / 0-)

      especially about the part where you stated that those who have waited this long will just wait for the next deadline as well.

      For some, they will only make the switch once the analog broadcasts stop.

      It's not like it is a difficult thing to switch anyway and the converter boxes really are not that expensive.

      •  The truly needy... (7+ / 0-)

        ...will still need help. I have friends at the local public TV station, and they hear some heartbreaking stories from people for whom the $10 or $20 the box costs after the coupon truly is a burden, or who are housebound and have no way to get or install the boxes.

        Those people really do need help, and it's got to come from more than just the station level. The station has been collecting "surplus" coupons from people who ordered more than they needed, but they're not comfortable making judgments about who deserves them and who doesn't.

        I'd be much happier with some sort of targeted funding program to make help - more coupons, money for social services agencies to help out, etc. - available. That would be productive in a way that just extending the run of analog TV won't.

        •  True. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          panicbean, ipsos, ShempLugosi

          If you can't afford a $20 box now, you won't be able to afford it in June either —

          Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

          Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

          by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:37:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  So why not let (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ShempLugosi, Jyrinx, deePA

            the television advertisers provide the boxes?

            I mean, do they want to lose the eyeballs?

            This shouldn't be a taxpayer burden, it should be an advertiser burden.

            Given the choice between losing a few thousand viewers or keeping them watching commercials, I would think it cost effective to have those businesses that advertise on ABC/CBS/NBC/FOX subsidize the cost.

            Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. Thomas Jefferson 6/11/1807

            by Patriot4peace on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:59:04 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The viewers who'd be lost... (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Boisepoet, hippie bitch, deePA

              ...are probably not the ones the advertisers are trying to reach.

              (If you can't afford $20 for a box, you're not buying a new car or much of anything else being advertised.)

              Look, there are some people who don't have much to enliven their day besides the TV set in the corner, and it may be sad, but if it's all they've got, they don't deserve to lose it.

    •  Procrastination? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, CaliSista

      When I was standing in line at the local Post Office in mid-December, there was a woman who looked like she was in her mid-40s (I'm 49, so I can say that) bitching like mad about the notice the post office had up about the switchover.  She didn't know anything about that!  Nobody had ever said anything about that!  What, her old television wouldn't work?  Somebody was making a ton of money, and she refused to get a box.  It was all just a scam... and on and on and on.

      I held my tongue.  Good lord, as if they hadn't been blaring about the switchover for months!

  •  I'm sick (11+ / 0-)

    of all the commercials already.

    In the unlikely story of America there's never been anything false about hope. -Obama

    by Luthien Tinuviel on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:03:48 PM PST

  •  Oh please. (11+ / 0-)

    The broadcasters have made a FORTUNE off the (commonly owned airwaves, property of the) American people for decades and they can't be bothered to spend a little more time and money making sure the most vulnerable and least tech-savvy viewers aren't cut off?

    This will be a very popular measure, and I think Obama's transition team is smart to propose it.

    •  Profitable broadcasters? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sagebrush Bob, smash artist

      Not at the moment, in most places.

      Remember, it's the local stations bearing most of the burden of this - including the cost of building out what amounts to a second transmitter facility for each station - and they're not rolling in money at the moment. Ad revenues are down dramatically at pretty much every station in America. It's not a pretty picture, and this won't help any.

      •  Perhaps not "at the moment" (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mogolori, mijita, snootless

        but the "local stations" have made billions and billions in aggregate through the years and have never paid American citizens a DIME for those frequencies.   Try giving American newspapers free newsprint if you want to balance the account.

        If you know of a TV broadcasting license someone wants to give up, please let me know.  

        •  Those billions have cashed out already (0+ / 0-)

          No question about it, owning a network-affiliated TV station in the fifties, sixties and seventies was "a license to print money" (that phrase actually came from a British commercial TV broadcaster.)

          Those days are long gone. The companies that made all that money back then, many of them local, are pretty much all gone from the business. Most of them cashed out in the 90s, when deregulation allowed a single company to own hundreds of stations instead of the old limits of 7, and then 12, and station sale prices soared to ridiculous figures. (At one point, you'd have paid north of a billion dollars to buy a TV station in Los Angeles or New York.)

          Guess how the companies that bought those stations at inflated prices paid for them? Yup...debt, and lots of it.

          Nobody's giving up licenses for free, because they still have some value, but plenty of broadcasting companies that paid too much at the top of the market are in bankruptcy or near it, and it's only going to get worse before it gets better.

          (Sound like every other industry in America?)

          •  The fact that they made a bundle (0+ / 0-)

            and spent it without ever imagining another day does not make me warm toward owners of local broadcasters ... many of whom, despite what you say, are still the same people who made the bundle.

      •  How will this affect advertising? (0+ / 0-)

        If at all?

        hink

        Hyperbole will be the death of us all!

        by MrHinkyDink on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:25:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hard to say (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MrHinkyDink

          The ad market is in such a slump already that it's hard to make any comparisons.

          The best guess, based on national research (which is tracked pretty closely by my utterly unscientific poll in this diary) is that more than 80% of the viewing population doesn't depend on over-the-air reception and thus won't be affected at all by the transition.

          Of the remaining 20%, perhaps half or a little more are ready for the transition.

          That leaves maybe 10% of the population, hopefully rather less by the time the process is over, that could lose TV reception and thus be out of the audience when advertisers go to buy TV time...which is probably less significant than the overall decline in broadcast TV viewership and in the economy in general.

  •  i bought a tv set for my girl (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caelian, Indexer, ShempLugosi

    now she's in love with milton berle.

    hoagy charmichael

    we'll stand him up against a wall and pop goes the weasel /rufus t. firefly

    by 2nd balcony on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:08:44 PM PST

  •  I'll lose "House" :(( (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mijita, Brother Love

    I have a converter box, but analog TV is the only way I can watch "House" (the only show I watch on FOX), because the digital channel that is supposed to be FOX comes through as something else.  

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:12:17 PM PST

  •  Your poll is missing a significant category (8+ / 0-)

    I get my TV over the air analog, and I CAN get all I want with cable or satellite if I desire.

    Cable and satellite TV is a waste of money.  If you pay for it, it should have NO ads.  Instead, it's almost nothing BUT advertising for the basic service.

    That people would willingly pay to have a fountain of advertising channelled into their homes is something that strikes me as uniquely American.  

    It's like buying a shirt that advertises Nike, for instance.  Nike should give you that shirt for free.  Basic cable should be free, too, since it's about 70% advertising.

  •  Better to FORCE everyone to get digital TV (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos, Boisepoet, Dichro Gal

    ...so long as you're not trying to get big-screen high-def LCDs e.g. 26-inch and above models (which aren't all that big to many folks)...digital televisions are not terribly expensive.

    This is like delaying the conversion of office technology to computers and word processing programs because some people still have investments in mag typewriters.

  •  I have a question (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peraspera, ipsos

    When it does switch over, will my old antenna work?  

    Or do I have to buy a new antenna?

    •  The antenna will still work you will just need a (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mijita, peraspera, ipsos, TomFromNJ, Jyrinx

      converter box to convert the digital signals back to analog for your old tv.

      The other thing that is not well known is that if you have a newer tv, you won't even need a converter box.

      •  Will you get the digital reception? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ipsos
        •  With the box or a newer TV, yes (0+ / 0-)

          Look for the symbols "DTV" or "ATSC" on your set, and if they're there, you can tune in digital TV right this very minute.

          Now, "digital" and "high definition" are two separate things. All high-def TV is digital (well, except for Japan, but that's another matter), but not all digital TV is high-def. And on a set much smaller than 30" or so, you'll never really see the difference anyway.

    •  A definite maybe (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peraspera

      Retailers have done a crappy job of marketing antennas, and broadcasters haven't done a great job of letting people know what's up, either.

      If your current antenna delivers a clear signal on both VHF (channels 2-13, especially 7-13) and UHF (14-69), it should do fine for DTV.

      Some cities will have all their digital signals on UHF, and in that case you won't even need a VHF antenna. Many more will be mixed, and so you'll still need the "rabbit ears" for VHF and a loop or bowtie-type antenna for UHF.

    •  The old antenna "may" work. (6+ / 0-)

      A lot depends on what's between the antenna and your TV.  If it's a single cable, you're in good shape.  If it has lots of splitters to go to multiple rooms, you could be in trouble since (as I have read) those splitters degrade UHF signals more than VHF, and the DTV signals are in the UHF band.

      A nasty problem with DTV is that it either works great, not at all, or garbage pixel blocks all over the place.  It doesn't degrade gracefully like analog.

      Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
      Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

      by Caelian on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:27:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  that's what worries me (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ipsos, Jyrinx

        Is I get a lot of channels, none of them great, some of them OK.  I'm worried that with DTV I'll get basically nothing. Oh well!  We'll see!

        I'm of the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" school, so I kinda resent this whole mandated switch.  

        •  There are compelling reasons for the switch (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jyrinx, HappyTexan

          The spectrum for analog TV was laid out back in the forties and fifties, when VHF and especially UHF frequencies were commercially nearly worthless. So it didn't matter that analog TV is incredibly spectrally inefficient.

          But now that there are all sorts of technologies vying for the use of that spectrum - cellphones, WiMax, public safety communications, and who knows what's coming down the pike next - it's hard to justify continuing to occupy 6 MHz of spectrum to transmit one standard-def analog picture, when you can transmit four or five of them, or an HDTV picture, by going digital in the same space.

          Yeah, it's no fun to replace a technology that's worked for 60+ years, but the alternative (and we may yet get there in a few years) could have been killing over-the-air broadcast TV completely and forcing everyone to get cable/satellite or go without. In some places, over-the-air viewing is so minimal - well under 10% of the total - that it almost wouldn't matter.

          •  Except that it would solidify (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            justalittlebitcrazy, ipsos, Inky99

            the cable and satellite oligopoly even more. Goddamn, I wish we could pay for cable by the channel like in Canada …

            Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

            Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

            by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:41:32 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  As long as they don't touch AM radio (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ipsos, HappyTexan

            I don't want to give up my crystal radio!

            Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
            Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

            by Caelian on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:47:28 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Shortwave radio is pretty much dying. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Caelian, ipsos, Jyrinx

              The BBC World Service no longer broadcasts SW to North America.

              Sad.  I remember tuning in everything from Radio Moscow to Kol Israel on an old SW receiver back in the days when hearing the news from another country was exotic and exciting.

              Damn.  I'm old.

              •  Aw!!! (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ipsos, HappyTexan

                I have happy childhood memories (read: early 90s) of hearing the slow rhythm of beeps every evening leading up to the announcement: “Midnight, Greenwich Mean Time.”

                Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

                Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

                by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:53:43 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  And if they force me to give up waxed string... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ipsos

              and tin cans, how will I communicate with the neighbors?

              No real point to this...just wanted to remind myself how old I am.

              "No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government. Always hopeful yet discontent, he knows changes aren't permanent. But change is." -Neil Peart

              by Boisepoet on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 04:14:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  And Morse code! Bring back Morse code! (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ipsos

              Actually, it's faster to key Morse code using a high-speed electronic keyer than those stupid little quasi-QUERY keyboards people use for text messaging.  Plus it only takes two pressure pads.

              Wikipedia

              Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
              Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

              by Caelian on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 04:48:20 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Location, location, location (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ipsos

          I live in a flatlands apartment and have an indoor antenna, so I get maybe 10 stations, almost all a waste of perfectly good bandwidth.  I do get NBC clearly, so that's what I'll be watching when Obama puts his hand on the Lincoln Bible.  My TV is used almost exclusively as a wide-screen DVD monitor.

          My parents live on a hill with good line of sight and get 34 stations, both with an indoor antenna and a rooftop antenna.  The hilarious thing is that I got them a DTV tuner for their tiny black & white kitchen TV just for the sheer perversity of hooking up a high-tech DTV tuner to it.

          Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
          Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

          by Caelian on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:45:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Talk to Someone Who Know Antennas (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ipsos

          We live in Central NJ too far from NYC or Philly for just an antennea.  But with a big antennea moved outside (rather than in the attic) and an amplifier we are good to go.  We have 2 converter boxes for our old TV that we bought with the coupon.  It cost about $200 for the antennea and amp - installed.  Works great!  Paid for itself quickly considering the cost of cable around here.

          The amp is a small unit that is in the attic where the cable from the antennea comes into the house.  From the amp it goes to 3 different TVs.  The newest is a small set that was digital ready so it doesnt need a converter box.  Our amp needs electrical power and is rated at 25dB.

          The guy who worked with me was an old TV man who knew his stuff.  He came with a sensor to check the signal strength and to align the antennea on the best direction.

  •  So what's up with channel 37? (4+ / 0-)

    Is that where secret communications between the Scientologists and the Lizard People take place?

    I want my Channel 37!

  •  Question: (3+ / 0-)
    I'm rather worried about the transition because I do have an HDTV and I rely on over-the-air signals (gorgeous, gorgeous over-the-air HD …). Thing is, reception is sometimes spotty (I need a better antenna, though I live on the bottom floor of an apartment, so I can't really mount it very high anyway), and the nice thing about analog TV is that reception can be crappy and still watchable. If a digital broadcast gets weaker, though, it generally cuts out altogether.

    Do I read your diary correctly, that on 2/17 there'll be more power going to digital broadcasts — that is, they won't just be switching off the analog but switching on more digital? Should I be encouraged? (And how likely am I to benefit from mounting an external antenna on a low balcony and ditching my internal powered antenna?)

    Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

    Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

    by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:17:46 PM PST

    •  Yes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, Jyrinx

      Many stations' digital signals will be significantly stronger once they stop running the analog signals, yes.

    •  It depends. (4+ / 0-)

      Some stations are already running at full power with their digital signals. Others are on temporary channels with digital, or at low power.

      Putting an antenna outdoors will certainly help.

      And here's a public service announcement I should have made in the diary itself: amplified antennas suck for DTV, in many cases.

      Cheap amplifiers can introduce non-linearity into the digital signal that wreaks havoc on the receiver, or so my engineer friends tell me.

      •  Ah! Sweet!! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ipsos

        Looks like I'm going to get me a new antenna and some coax this weekend — just in time for Sunday's 24 premiere :-D

        Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

        Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

        by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:26:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Patterns and frequencies change also (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, Jyrinx

      The broadcast patterns (which directions have the strongest signals) may also change for some stations on Feb 17th.  Some will also change frequency, so you'll need to re-run the channel search on your tuner.  DTV has "logical channel numbers" rather than fixed frequencies.

      I'd wait until after the changeover before making any antenna changes since your favorite stations may behave differently with different antennas before and after the switchover.

      Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
      Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

      by Caelian on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:37:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Heh — (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ipsos

        My TV's firmware gets confused about the logical channel numbers. It has an “adjust for weak signal” mode where it gives you a signal-strength meter while you play with the rabbit ears. Except if you try to adjust 34, it starts showing 37, and various other anomalies …

        Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

        Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

        by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:39:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Try this... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jyrinx

          Some TVs and converter boxes will let you enter the "physical RF channel" of a DTV signal directly. Your Fox station operates on channel 31, and if you try punching in "31" instead of "34," you might have an easier time adjusting...

          •  Oh, right — (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ipsos

            that was 31 and 34, not 34 and 37, respectively :-)

            I haven't seen that option in the menu (and I'm a voracious option-hunter). Though I wouldn't be shocked to see a firmware upgrade in the next few months.

            Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

            Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

            by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:57:46 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Another question here... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, Jyrinx

      I've been wanting to get an antenna for those glorious OTA HD signals...

      The digital transmitters are clustered northeast of town in the hills, about 25 miles away from me. I rent, so I can't go too crazy with an installation. My TV, unfortunately, is on the southwest corner of my place, directly opposite the signal source.

      Is it even worth it to try and get one of those set-top antennas? I've heard that there's a fair amount of building interference and things are pretty directionally dependent...

      (Full disclosure: I do have an EE degree and feel kind of silly asking this, but I am a power systems kind of guy and skated through my communications classes with minimum effort.)

      •  There are no silly questions! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eli the ice man

        25 miles isn't out of the question for an indoor antenna. You may have to do some experimenting to find the right one, and as I noted somewhere else in the comments, I'd try to stay away from the amplified ones, because they introduce all kinds of nonlinearities that screw with digital reception.

        The FCC does have rules (google "OTARD" if you're really curious) that protect the rights of renters and condo dwellers and such to install outdoor antennas, but it's usually easier not to have to go that route.

  •  I already hate digital! (5+ / 0-)

    I got the box months ago, and digital TV sucks! I have to crank the sound up to maximum to hear anything. The first and or last word of many sentences just gets dropped.

    The picture will suddenly pixalate, and trying to tune in a station is really weird, because of the time lag betwen the antenna and the picture tube, and, of course, touching or being within 3 feet of the antenna affects the reception. It takes forever to get tuned in. What was a good position yesterday, might now be today.

    Hate it, hate it, hate it!

    I have been watching most TV online.

    •  Things may improve Feb 17th (3+ / 0-)

      As ipsos said, many stations will increase their power and/or change their broadcast patterns on Feb 17th, which may improve the strength of the signal you're getting.

      One thing that's amusing is that the digital stations are "logical station numbers" and are not correlated to frequency.  On Feb 17th many stations will switch to new frequencies and you'll have to re-run the tuner setup to find them again.

      With luck, things will improve.  Unless Congress delays the switchover, of course.

      Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
      Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

      by Caelian on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:31:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  How common is this going to be? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ipsos

        If a bunch of people get up on Feb. 17 and find out that the new digital TV they got for Christmas has stopped working, they're not going to be happy.  

        I hadn't heard anything about this, and, while by no means an expert, I usually am aware of these things.

        •  Fairly common, but not much to worry about (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jyrinx, HappyTexan

          Most markets will require a rescan after Feb. 17 (or whatever the date turns out to be), but broadcasters were prepared to push that message home on the days leading up to that.

          You haven't heard much about that yet, because there's no need to tell people about it before it's necessary.

          It's not complicated to do, and it only needs to be done once and it's over with.

  •  50 miles (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos

    They told everyone here, DFW, that if you use rabbit ears or outside antenna, you have to be within 50 miles of the transmission towers to get the digital signal.

    If that is true, many of our residents will be having problems.  

    If you want to know the real answer: Just ask a Mom.

    by tacklelady on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:41:05 PM PST

  •  I consider myself to be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ShempLugosi, Jyrinx, HappyTexan

    reasonably tech savvy for a mid-forties type [can build my own computer but refuse to learn that abomination known as texting] and I just now ordered the coupon.  I think it's true that if they delay the implementation that people will procrastinate further but I still find the whole thing very irritating.  I see explanations and rationales like those listed by the diarist but it just feels like planned obsolescence and a boon to TV manufacturers.  

    I have cable in parts of my house but I have a little portable over the air TV that I use in the kitchen (no cable).  I'm not even sure the converter box will work with this TV and even if it does, the box will probably be larger eliminating the "portable" aspect.  I have a feeling it will be joining thousands (millions?) of other units clogging up some landfill.

    •  Good point about landfills. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, CaliSista

      While I don't know enough to support or oppose the change to digital, I do wonder what's going to happen to all of the perfectly good analog TVs that get tossed because of this.

      •  My city has been pushing a recycling program (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CaliSista, Jyrinx, HappyTexan

        I don't know how common that is, nationally.

        One thing broadcasters didn't anticipate when the conversion to digital started in the nineties was how quickly the familiar boxy CRT TV would be supplanted by a flood of inexpensive big LCDs.

        (The government missed a huge opportunity by not mandating that those sets be sold with digital tuners from the beginning, and so there are a lot of LCD and plasma sets sold well into 2007 that don't include digital tuners and require a cable box or outboard tuner.)

        But I'm getting off-point - adoption of those big flatscreens has been so rapid, based on their form factor alone, that a lot of older sets were going to be getting sidelined regardless of the transition in how over-the-air TV is transmitted.

    •  Someone's going to get filthy rich (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, CaliSista, HappyTexan

      making a compact external antenna with a built-in digital-to-analog converter to plug into those and keep them useful.

      Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

      Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

      by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:43:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Damn... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jyrinx

        There's a product there! You might want to patent that before someone, er, steals the idea...

        •  I doubt I'm the only one to think of it. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ipsos

          Besides, it's just a matter of combining a few existing parts and making them smaller. Probably too obvious for an individual to patent. (Now, if I were a patent troll with an army of lawyers, I'm sure it'd be quite lucrative …)

          Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

          Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

          by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:55:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Turn it off. I don't have (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caelian, ipsos, shann

    cable and I don't need a TV.  It would be nice to know that even if I plugged the thing in, it wouldn't work!

    So much time for other things!

    We've got serious work to do. Health care and civil rights for all, please!

    by the dogs sockpuppet on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:46:01 PM PST

  •  even if they delay the Feb 17th date (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jyrinx, rfall

    ICBWB I believe stations can still turn off analog assuming they're technically ready to.  I work at a small PBS station and our engineer has been working his ass off to get ready to go all digital.  He seemed to indicate he's going to shut off the analog transmitter on the 2/17 no matter what.

    "Whenever I get the urge, I lay down 'til it passes." - Mark Twain on exercise.

    by mkor7 on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:46:23 PM PST

    •  PBS is hardcore for digital. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, HappyTexan

      They broadcast everything in HD it seems, and it's frigging gorgeous and has been for a while …

      Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

      Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

      by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:49:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  That is very interesting, and it raises a q: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ipsos, Jyrinx

      What power does the FCC have to tell broadcasters not to turn off analog on 2/17?

      If they have no such authority--and I would guess they don't--then this may be an academic exercise, since TV stations don't have to comply with a delay, even if asked, if they judge it against their better interests.

      "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazurus Long

      by rfall on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:50:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ugh. That'd be a mess. n/t (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ipsos

        Denny Crane: But if he supports a law, and then agrees to let it lapse … then that would make him …

        Shirley Schmidt: A Democrat.

        by Jyrinx on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 03:50:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Uncertain. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Boisepoet, Jyrinx

        There were provisions, during the transition process that was supposed to have wrapped up on 2/17, by which stations could ask the FCC for permission to turn off analog. In the last 60 days or so of the transition period, they could get that permission just for asking. (Before that, the FCC considered it "going dark," and there are rules about how long a station can be off the air before losing its license.)

        There will certainly be some stations shutting down analog as older transmitters and antennas fail. (The Fox station in Boston, for instance, has been off the air since early December on analog.)

        Others will probably follow, with or without the FCC's blessing. The power bill to an older analog UHF transmitter can exceed $10,000 a month in some areas. That's serious coin for small stations, especially public broadcasters, if they haven't budgeted for it.

  •  Low power stations (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos, Jyrinx

    Another complicating issue is that many low-power stations won't be changing to digital.  This includes, for example, quite a few over-the-air Spanish language stations.

    It's not a huge problem technically: AFAIK digital TVs are still capable of receiving analog signals, and many converter boxes have pass-through capability.

    But, still one more thing to gum up the process....

  •  What about the Boonies of North Dakota? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos

    and I do mean the Boonies - my mother's farm  in North Dakota is at least 100 miles from any broadcast tower.

    Currently, she get four over-the-air stations - what will happen after the Digital switch?  Even if she buys the new tv, or antenna and converter box, or any of the other gizmos that she can't afford - will she get any channels at all?  

    And what about rural folks like her, all over  the US, who are far away from a tower - will they get ANY free tv, or will they be forced to either buy a satellite dish or do without TV entirely?  

    And, by the way - what about the myriad problems reported in North Carolina, the first part of the country to make the switch?

    From an MSNBC story

    A major problem during a test run in Wilmington, N.C., was the inability of over-the-air viewers to receive new digital signals, according to figures collected after the test.

    Commercial broadcasters in the North Carolina city volunteered to cease analog programming on Sept. 8, well before the rest of the nation. Of the 1,828 people who complained to the Federal Communications Commission in the first five days, slightly more than half were unable to tune in one or more channels. (snip)

    The largest number of calls to the FCC from Wilmington were from viewers of the NBC affiliate, WECT-TV. That station's analog broadcast covers far more ground than its digital signal, meaning some viewers could watch that channel before the switchover but not afterward. A total of 553 complaints were attributed to that issue.( snip)

    FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said a smaller digital footprint may affect as many as 15 percent of television markets in the U.S. (snip)

    There are also concerns that Wilmington was not representative. Citizens were subjected to an intense public education campaign. The terrain is relatively flat, and as a percentage, fewer viewers rely on over-the-air broadcasting than the nation as a whole.

    •  Sadly, (0+ / 0-)

      no American has ever been guaranteed free over-the-air TV.

      100 miles is a long way for any signal to travel, even from a tall tower to an outdoor antenna.

      I wish I had a better answer for your mother. If she gets a reasonably clear picture from 100 miles out right now, she might have a shot at digital, and if she can get a digital signal, she'll actually experience a much better picture than she probably has now.

      I suspect the long-term answer for your mom, and people in her situation, will be the Obama administration's promise of universal access to high-speed broadband. If we could get electricity everywhere in the country in the 1930s, we can get the Net there in the 2010s - and if we can do that, your mom and others like her won't need antennas to try to drag in a weak signal from 100 miles away.

      •  well, yeah - (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MattR

        But the fact remains, she DID have free over-the-air TV until the switch to Digital - and after the switch, she won't.  

        See, being a bit of a techie myself, I understand why the switch is needed -

        I've just been very, very annoyed by the dishonesty surrounding the whole issue - and the constant statements that, after some period of confusion, everybody will get a converter box and everything will be better than ever.

        When for some rural people  - like my mother - the switch to Digital means that they can't watch TV anymore AT ALL, ever. Unless they can afford 30/monthly, plus startup costs, for a Dish.

        And If they started pulling the fiber now, or putting up the WiFi towers - it would still be years  until broadband reached her.  (And I still don't understand how you can make broadband economically feasible in areas like ND, or deserts of AZ and Nev, where the population density is very, very, VERY low.

        (for example: REA electric didn't reach the farm in 1949:  before that, my grandpa generated his own 32-volt, with windmills and big glass storage batteries. )

        I just wish people would be honest about the downside - instead of pretending that nobody at all is going to be hurt by this. Because for a lot of people - overwhelmingly poor, elderly, and rural - the switch means the end of TV completely.  And that is NOT a trivial thing.  

        •  No argument there (0+ / 0-)

          And it's not just the really, really remote areas like your family's farm that will be affected. My area is considerably more densely populated, and there are nooks and crannies that, thanks to terrain issues, will also lose reception.

          It's not that we as broadcasters don't want to talk about it - it's just that there is no good answer right away, and that is indeed non-trivial.

          (And that said, I'd rather see the incoming administration work on that than on a meaningless extension of analog TV; if, as seems likely, many of the analog stations that do remain on the air through an extension period past 2/17 end up doing so on reduced power, that too will mean the loss of reception in distant areas.)

  •  Kill your telescreen (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justCal, TomFromNJ, ShempLugosi

    There is a reason they call it PROGRAMMING.

    Since the whole affair was one of religion.. the vanquished were of course, exterminated. Voltaire

    by maerkwurdigleiebe on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 04:17:46 PM PST

  •  Tipped and Rec'd (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos, ShempLugosi, deePA

    I'm turning off satelite this month, and don't have a convertor. Time to get back to the journals and write some poetry, I guess.

    "No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government. Always hopeful yet discontent, he knows changes aren't permanent. But change is." -Neil Peart

    by Boisepoet on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 04:24:21 PM PST

  •  May I speak for the low income folks? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos

    That's where my expertise is.

    They are not universally stupid, uninformed, unaware or incapable. They have cell phones. They have cable. Some already have digital TV's. They see the same endless PSA's about it on TV that we do. Stations have spent big bucks doing special outreach via handouts at health fairs and similar venues to reach this population. (in multiple languages).

    Yes, some have still missed out on the message, or don't understand what it means to them. As the diarist notes there are many (many) who succumbed to the human impulse to procrastinate.

    The solution is not to delay the implementation. It is to beef up the coupon program and the information lines to be ready to respond to those who will suddenly wake up to the issue, and the need to take some action, in the days immediately following the conversion.

    Visit the Cat Chat Group on the Kossacks Networking site.

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 05:40:09 PM PST

    •  Amen to that! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe

      With an addendum, if I might...

      It's true that cable/satellite penetration is quite high among the low-income folks. Americans like their TV, and many will spend $$ on TV before they'll spend on other things that might seem more urgent.

      It's also true that there have been all sorts of outreach programs - and all sorts of procrastination nonetheless.

      More money for coupons and more information lines will help (and will be of much more use than several more months of partial analog service) - but there also needs to be some sort of better-funded effort to get no-cost boxes to those who truly need them and those who truly have no way to get them/install them on their own.

      (There should also be more attention paid to one particular subset of the population - the blind and visually-impaired. They don't watch TV, per se, but they sure do listen, and most of the new DTV converter boxes are not designed in a way that's friendly for them to use. But I digress again.)

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