Monday, June 15, 2009

As expected, rural areas lost channels and began having other reception issues with digital TV

As soon as television stations began dropping their analog signals and going all-digital a few months ago, rural viewers began having trouble. Some stations' digital transmitters were in locations different from their analog transmitters, and digital signals have a drop-off effect, in which a signal below a certain strength will result in no picture at all, rather than a snowy picture that a weak analog signal produced. The problem grew Saturday, the first day that full-power stations could no longer broadcast analog signals.

"For some people who've already made the switch, the biggest complaint so far is that the digital signals aren't as strong and can break up easily for people who live too far away from TV towers," notes Amy Schatz of The Wall Street Journal. She reports that almost 20 percent of the callers to the Federal Communications Commission national call center "reported reception issues, including lost channels or problems with the digital signals breaking up."

Schatz found an example of other problems rural viewers are having: "Three weeks ago, Chuck Vail of Glenolden, Pa., hooked up his converter box and was delighted to find he had three channels from a local PBS affiliate as well as a channel from a New Jersey PBS station. 'I thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread,' Mr. Vail said. That feeling lasted until the first major thunderstorm moved through his area. He says he now loses all but one of his digital channels when it rains." (Read more)

In a few areas, the switch to digital has meant an "off" switch for stations with technical issues and financial challenges. The FCC said early this month that 10 had gone dark already and it expected 25 more to do so by June 12. However, it expects the 17 with technical problems to resume broadcasting by the end of the year. Eighteen of the stations are owned by bankrupt Equity Media. Only seven are affiliates of major networks, reported John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable. (Read more)

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