Archive for February 7, 2009

Feb 7, Despite Digital TV Delay, Shortage of Converters and Funds Possible

NEW YORK – Stores could soon run out of the federally subsidized converter boxes that let an older television set receive new digital signals, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Manufacturers stopped making the boxes in early January, expecting that demand would peak around Feb. 17, when U. S. full-power television stations were slated to turn off their analog signals. But Congress this week voted to extend the deadline to June 12.

As talk of a delay grew last month, manufacturers restarted their converter-box assembly lines, said Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs for the consumer electronics group. But the new boxes will take time to reach stores.

The trade association estimates U. S. retailers have 3 million to 6 million boxes on hand.

“The worst case is that there are only 3 million boxes,” Petricone said. “Retailers would then run out of inventory by the end of February.”

What makes predictions difficult is that the government has run out of money for coupons to help the public buy the boxes. The waiting list has 3.7 million requests.

More funds might be provided in the economic stimulus package, and if they are suddenly released through the coupon program, boxes could run out even faster, Petricone told the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday.

Retailer inventories more likely are closer to 6 million boxes, Petricone said, which means stocks should last until newly made boxes arrive in April.

Nielsen Co. estimates that 5.8 million households are unprepared for the shutdown of analog signals. Some of them may have converter boxes but have not hooked them up. Others may need more than one box.

Many stations will stick to the original Feb. 17 shutdown date, but some broadcasters, particularly in big cities, have committed to delaying their analog turnoff until June.

Once analog signals are cut off, consumers with older analog TV sets that receive over-the- air broadcasts with an antenna will need to buy a digital TV set or install a converter box to keep receiving signals. People who subscribe to cable or satellite TV will not be affected.

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Feb 7, Digital Switchover Still Set for Feb. 17 for Many Stations

NEW YORK – Television viewers who use antennas and were expecting a few more months to prepare for digital TV may not have much time left before their sets go dark: Many stations still plan to drop analog broadcasts in less than two weeks.

When Congress postponed the mandatory transition to digital TV until June, it also gave stations the option to stick to the originally scheduled date of Feb. 17.

That means the shutdown of analog signals, which broadcasters had hoped would happen at nearly the same time nationwide, could now unfold in a confusing patchwork of different schedules.

Lawmakers wanted to address concerns that many households that receive TV signals through an antenna are not prepared for the switch. They were also mindful that a government fund has run out of money to subsidize digital converter boxes for older TVs.

Dozens of stations around the country now say they are going to take advantage of the option to drop analog broadcasts this month.
Many others are on the fence. The total number is likely to be in the hundreds, a substantial chunk and maybe even a majority of the country’s 1,796 full-power TV stations.

The House voted Wednesday to delay the mandatory shutdown until June 12. The Senate passed the measure unanimously last week, and the bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The legislation means analog signals could vanish entirely in some areas but persist in neighboring regions. In rural areas, low-power stations will continue to broadcast in analog even beyond June 12.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission ordered stations that still plan to turn off analog signals on Feb. 17 to notify the FCC by Monday.

Acting Chairman Michael Copps said the commission could prohibit stations from making the switch if doing so is not in the public interest.

For instance, if all stations in a market want to turn off early, that would draw FCC scrutiny, he said at a commission meeting.
For many broadcasters, delaying the shutdown is inconvenient and expensive. Many of them have scheduled engineering work on their equipment to make the transition on Feb. 17.

The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, the public broadcasting network in the state, said Thursday that it planned to cease analog transmission from its full-power antennas at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17.
“We have four full-power stations all with 30-year-old-plus analog transmitters that are costly to maintain, putting out less than a quality signal,” said Mark Norman, deputy director of technology at OETA.

“Sitting right alongside them are brand-new digital transmitters that have been running now for a few years. We just think it’s counterproductive to continue to put money into the old ones.”

Keeping the analog equipment in operation until June would cost the station about 0,000 at a time when the state is considering cutting its contribution to the budget, Norman said.

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