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Broadcasters Assure FCC on Digital D-Day

The prediction is: far fewer problems than if the changeover from analog had happened on the original date, four months ago.

A week from Friday, 3.1 million households — 2.7 percent of the households in the nation’s biggest markets — will suddenly disappear from the TV audience.

They’ll take with them nearly 5.4 percent of the African-American and 4.7 percent of Hispanic homes nationally — and 5.4 percent of the market in Los Angeles.

Or maybe the households won’t go anywhere. Maybe the nation’s digital TV transition June 12 will turn into a non-event.

Whatever actually will happen, the looming arrival of the transition date from analog to digital and its potential for sewing confusion and chaos is continuing to fuel worries at the Federal Communications Commission.

Industry representatives told the FCC on Thursday that any problems will be far less than they would have been four months ago, when the transition was originally to take place. Issues getting discount coupons for the converter boxes out to the viewers that need them have been resolved. In addition, call centers are now ready to handle any questions are problems.

The industry representatives also claimed the estimate of 3.1 million unready households — which comes from Nielsen Media Research — is high, because Nielsen counted as unready households that in fact have the converter boxes but simply haven’t installed them.

Still there were some warnings. Broadcasters and consumer groups suggested that people who haven’t yet connected their converter boxes could have trouble getting them to work. In addition, some in fringe areas will need new antennas — and others will lose signals of one or more stations they used to receive.

Some stations have used the switch to refine the area they transmit to. In addition, 18 smaller stations owned by Equity Media will go dark. The company was unable to raise the capital to build digital transmitters, FCC officials said.

Finally in Puerto Rico, where 50 percent of households until recently got their signals over the air, about 25 percent of households are still unready.
 
“We are entering the final stretch with confidence, but know it will be a challenging, particularly for the vulnerable population,” said Christopher A. McLean, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition.

Acting FCC chairman Michael Copps also said he’s preparing for a flood of calls. “This will be a sensitive transition,” he said. “All of the kinks have not been worked out. I think it will be a win for most people — and more people will be happy than inconvenienced — but we will be hearing from people.”