Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Out of reach of TV stations' new signals, rural Americans are discovering digital disappointment

In December, we reported that millions of rural Americans would no longer be able to watch familiar television stations because they live too far from the new digital transmitters. We have kept this story on our home page for more than a month, because we know it will be important to many rural residents. Now we are getting the first reports of rural Americans' digital disappointment.

Some stations are moving their transmitters as they switch to digital, leaving rural areas in their dark. Digital signals supposedly travel about 75 miles, and then drop out quickly, unlike the old analog signals that get fuzzy and fade. "There is a hell of a lot of rural people that live more than 75 miles from an urban center large enough to have a broadcast television station," Brian Depew of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs writes on its Blog for Rural America.

"The problem started to come home for me when my parents called this week," Depew writes. "They live in rural northwest Iowa where they receive analog signals for stations broadcasting from Des Moines (150 miles away), Sioux City (100 miles away) and Fort Dodge (60 miles away). They hooked their brand-new digital converter box up, and lost the stations in Sioux City and Des Moines. Only the Fort Dodge station came in digitally. The Sioux City station and at least one of the Des Moines stations are already broadcasting a simultaneous digital signal, but alas, it seems they are too far away to receive it."

Depew says his folks "could get satellite television, but that's not cheap. And for many poor people, especially during these tough economic times, the satellite bill might be out of reach. For these people especially, broadcast television is important. Having equitable access to news and information is a democratizing force that we should take seriously." (Read more)

But the whole story of the digital transition remains to be told, says David Greer of the Kentucky Press Association, who knows a few things about television."Many stations now broadcasting digital signals are doing so with low power, temporary towers and different channels than they will eventually use permanently," Greer wrote us in an e-mail. "In other words, it's too early to judge the quality of digital reception for folks in rural areas, in some cases. ... The current transition period is just that for some stations. Some, obviously, are better off technically and are already transmitting HiDef with as much wattage or more than analog. But not everyone is there yet."


Anonymous said...

I'm left with ABC & PBS after Feb. 17th and I expect to loose ABC after June 12th. I've done the re-initialization and rescan for channels.
Someone tell me who I can contact to voice my opinions regarding telecommunications access in rural communities please.
Aurora, NE

mike said...

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Since June 12th all I can get is PBS over the air on the best antenna sold at my local retailer. The reception range is shorter for DTV so the existing transmission tower density will not reach as many as before. The cable companies won't tell you but they do provide the HD signals for local stations on cable for free. Most cases you need a QAM tuner to decode the signal and that takes some research. Of course they will rent you one for around $10/month.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I did to receive free local HD channels on the cable of the provider in my area.
Purchased a KWorld SA290-Q DVI External ATSC/QAM TVBox for $80, I think they have gone up to over $100 since I purchased.
Make sure the cable connection is made into your dwelling, someone had disconnect mine.
It has YPbPr and DVI outputs so make sure your TV has one of these types of inputs.
Be patient navigating the menu during setup, it's not very user friendly.

Anonymous said...

Rural america, you are not alone. I live smack dab in the center of a thriving Southern metropolis and lost channels as well. I have 4 of the 6 I used to receive.

Anonymous said...

I think people should learn to find better things to do with their time in "Rural" America. This related to being a farmer mostly. I spend a lot of time focusing on growing crops and maintenance in my greenhouse. I do not miss the crap they air on TV anymore. As for internet abilities use dial-up. It is slow but you can still be connected for around 12 dollars a month. I think we should focus on why we live away from cities (clean air, no traffic, people who wear their pants around their waist) and less on what we do not have.

Nicole said...

I just started working at DISH Network and I know that we service a lot of rural locations with all kinds of programming including HD channels. Check out the website, you'll see that HD programming is free for life for new and existing customers. Hope this helps!