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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Continuing Consumer Confusion on DTV Transition

As we get closer to the 2/17/09 transition date, consumers continue to be confused over what they need to do.

If you have satellite TV, cable TV, or FiOS-like fiber-based service do you need to do anything about your analog TV?

The NTIA DTV2009.gov site is pretty clear on this issue:
"Analog television sets receiving free TV using an antenna will not work after February 17, 2009. Television viewers with these sets that are not connected to a pay TV service will need to take action before February 17, 2009, to ensure their TV sets continue to work. Consumers have a variety of options.

Options to explore include:
  1. Keeping your existing analog TV and purchasing a TV converter box. A converter box plugs into your TV and will keep it working after Feb. 17, 2009. It is expected to cost between $50 and $70 and be available in early 2008, or
  2. Connect to cable, satellite or other pay service, or
  3. Purchase a television with a digital tuner."

By contrast, the FCC website is murkier on the issue with this long discussion
Will cable customers with analog TVs have to buy or rent a set-top box from their cable company? If so, how much will it cost?

First, it's important to know that the February 17, 2009 deadline for the digital television transition only applies to full-power broadcast stations. Cable companies are not required by the government to transition their systems to digital, and can continue to deliver channels to their customers in analog. Cable companies are actually required by FCC rules to continue offering local broadcast stations to their customers in analog as long as they offer any analog service. This requirement will continue for at least three years after February 17, 2009. The Commission will decide in 2011 whether the requirement should be continued beyond February 17, 2012. This means that customers who receive analog cable service (without a cable set-top box) will be able to continue to do so.

However, for business reasons (among other things, digital is much more efficient than analog), cable companies may be interested in transitioning their systems from analog delivery to digital delivery. If a cable company makes the business decision to go all-digital (meaning it will stop offering any channels to its customers in analog), it must ensure that its analog customers can continue to watch their local broadcast stations. This may require customers with analog televisions to get a set-top box. If the cable company provides the customer with a set-top box, any costs related to it will be determined by the cable company. Therefore, it is recommended that analog cable customers contact their cable company to ask if a set-top box will be needed, when it will be needed, and if there will be a cost.

It is also important to note that a cable set-top box is different from a digital-to-analog converter box. A digital-to-analog converter box is necessary only for analog televisions that receive their programming over-the-air using a rooftop antenna or "rabbit ears" connected to the set. A digital-to-analog converter box is not necessary for a TV connected to a paid television service such as a cable or satellite TV provider. Information on any set-top boxes needed for a paid service such as cable or satellite should be obtained from the service provider.

Try explaining that to your grandmother!

If you buy a DTV and want be join the 12% of US households who actually use the "free" over-the-air reception that NAB and MSTV are so sentimental about, do you need a new antenna? The FCC dtv.gov website says

"Will I need a special antenna to receive DTV over-the-air?

In general, dependable reception of over-the-air digital TV programming will require the same type of signal reception equipment that currently works to provide good quality reception of analog TV programming. If you need a roof-top antenna to receive analog TV broadcasts, the same antenna generally will work to receive digital TV broadcasts. You should not have to purchase new antennas that are marketed as “digital ready” or “HD ready."

How many people with technical backgrounds believe that this statement is a general truth? Dr. Oded Bendov, a veteran of the mainstream TV broadcasting industry was quoted by the NY Times as saying “For the people with rabbit-ear antennas, I would say at least 50 percent won’t get the channels they were getting. I would say a lot of people are going to be very unhappy.” The same article goes on to discuss a Centris report saying,

"Centris also estimated that of the 117 million TVs not connected to cable or satellite, up to 80 percent have set-top rabbit-ear antennas that may not be able to pull in an adequate digital signal. Many of those sets will require a better antenna or a cable or satellite connection to do so."

However, if you want really useful information, ignore the 2 feuding federal agencies that can't coordinate their websites, the huge trade associations, and go to Denny's TV Antenna Sales "Based in Ithaca, Michigan since 1988". For example, who else tells the public in plain English that in some cities, e.g. St. Louis, all the DTV stations will be on UHF so you can use a smaller UHF only antenna to get "free" over-the air reception?

So my compliment to Denny's (the TV antenna store - not the fast food place) for their excellent leadership in consumer education that presumably was done on a shoestring budget. I hope the 2 feuding agencies and the trade associations learn from this website and improve their consumer education.

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