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More on DTV transition

By Staff | Jan 15, 2009

To the editor,

I was very disappointed to read the guest commentary “America’s DTV transition beset with problems” in your Jan. 8 issue. The commentary is filled with inaccurate information. As with any change of this magnitude there are problems, but the authors painted a very biased and inaccurate picture of the digital TV conversion currently going on in the United States. Preliminary testing of digital TV broadcasting in the U.S. has been very thorough, with the analog and digital systems operating side by side for many years now. Digital-only tests, where the analog transmitters are switched off, reveal very few problems all of which can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis because of their small number.

Calling the outreach about the DTV conversion haphazard at best is absurd. The authors need to remember that it is in the television station’s best interest to air the Public Service Announcements about the upcoming conversion often and not during the middle of the night, and indeed many of these PSA’s have been aired during the day and evening. Who has not seen one of these announcements? There is help available to anyone who requires assistance in the form of toll free phone numbers and internet sites, not to mention friends and family. I have helped a good friend here on Sanibel and my mother in Denver (over the phone) with their converter box installations.

The distribution of set top boxes could not have possibly gone much smoother. They’re available at all of the major electronics stores. My 82-year-old mother managed to get into a Best Buy, coupon in hand, and purchased a converter box for just over $20. If someone doesn’t want to be bothered with leaving the house, you can order the boxes over the phone, using the coupon, and have it shipped to your home for free. I just did this for a family member by calling Circuit City’s toll free number and requesting basic shipping at no extra cost.

The authors feel the saddest thing about the entire situation is that it could have been handled better, similar to the way the conversion has been handled in the U.K. About the only fact the authors got right was that digital TV in the U.K. is being rolled out region-by-region. The conversion to digital television in the U.K. and the U.S. has been very similar, with similar problems (usually involving the need to upgrade an existing TV antenna at the viewer’s home). I experienced this first hand as someone who lived and worked in broadcasting in the U.K. from 2000-2007. The problems in the U.K. have not been easier to address as compared to here in the U.S. In the U.K., there has been an effort to make the public aware of the conversion, similar to the effort both on the air and in print here in the States. The two systems exist side by side in the U.K., same as here in the U.S. Both systems utilize existing TV channels and antennas, and both systems will work with set top converter boxes. In the U.K., however, there is no government sponsored program to provide converter boxes at a discount. Help is limited to those age 75 or over, or disabled.

When it comes to consumer electronics new technologies, the United States has lagged behind other countries time and time again (our color television standard, cell phones, and digital terrestrial radio for example). Digital television is one of the few opportunities we have to change all that. Free over-the-air digital TV can be credited with bringing high definition into the homes of many Americans, and we are now way ahead of many European countries when it comes to HDTV. Too many Americans, however, have a habit of resisting change, not willing to put in a little extra effort for something worthwhile, and believing that watching television is a right. This is our opportunity to move forward. The United States is handling the DTV transition quite well, in my opinion, and we’re almost there. We should get on with it. To put on the brakes in the final hour would be a mistake.

Any readers who require assistance or more information may feel free to contact me at scott.hower@yahoo.com. I’ll be more than happy to help you with the transition to digital television currently in its last month.

Scott Hower