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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)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

dtv.gov Gets a Needed Overhaul
Still Needs Work

The above is a snapshot from the revised FCC dtv.gov website, announced this week at the NAB convention where all commissioners are required to genuflect. (Anyone remember the furor when Reed Hundt had the chutzpah to attend a major ITU conference that conflicted with the NAB show?)

The change is a positive improvement, but the snapshot, featuring questions highlighted on the top page - not obscure issues, show lingering important problems.

Can I Use My UHF/VHF Antenna to Receive DTV?

Television stations broadcasting in digital use both the VHF (channels 2-13) and UHF (channels 14-51) bands. Many indoor antennas use “rabbit ears” for the VHF band and a “loop” or “bow-tie” antenna for the UHF band.

There is a lot of truth to this. But if you live in or near another of the "orange triangles" in the new improved FCC coverage maps - a great improvement to the site made around January - you need more antenna gain, basically a better antenna or an outdoor replacement for your rabbit ears. These "orange triangles" occur because of stations changing locations, changing frequency, and changing power. They are a small fraction of US homes, but they are quite real. The advice is oversimplistic.

Does the DTV Transition Affect TV Sets That Are Connected to Cable Services?

No. If you subscribe to cable service, the DTV transition should not affect any TV sets that are connected to your cable services. The DTV transition applies only to full-power broadcast television stations – stations that use the public airwaves to transmit their programming to viewers through a broadcast antenna. (Emphasis added.)

As I have written before, this is also a half truth. If your analog TV is connected to the cable system without a set top box and if you watch basic tier nonbroadcast cable, e.g. CNN, C-SPAN, MTV, Food Network, etc., you are in for an unpleasant surprise. While communications policy wonks will quibble over parsing the website quote and my sentence, try to explain that to your neighbor or an elderly person in a nursing home. The American public deserves a clearer explanation of the basic tier situation, not one from K St. lawyers. I am not saying the policy is wrong, just that there is a dearth of consumer friendly information.

I note that the new FCC/Consumers Union "DTV Made Easy" booklet has better explanations of both the antenna and CATV problems, but is written in rather odd English - perhaps reflecting too much editing from too many editors:

"My TV is connected to a for-pay cable, satellite, or phone company service.
If so, you’re all set! Any TV, no matter how old, will continue to work with cable, satellite, or phone-company TV service that you are already paying for. Most subscribers don’t have to do anything to keep getting their usual TV programming. One exception: If your cable company discontinues all analog service (its own choice, not required by the government), subscribers who currently plug the cable directly into the TV may need to rent a cable box, usually for $5 to $7 a month. (This is not the same as a DTV converter box, which is used with an antenna.) The cable company must notify affected consumers and offer the equipment they need. However, most cable companies are expected to continue analog-cable service, and they cannot require you to get a box or upgrade to digital cable to get the local channels you now receive."
But why should the web site contain misleading information by ignoring the "one exception"? Why not link to the booklet in a note saying to look for the details there?

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