US stations end analog broadcasts, many face blank screens

June 13th, 2009 - 3:20 am ICT by IANS  

Los Angeles, June 13 (DPA) Television stations across the US ended over 80 years of analog television broadcasts Friday in a switch to a digital format that’s designed to free up valuable spectrum for mobile broadband communications.
The US government has spent over $2 billion to get consumers ready for the change, but millions of TV viewers remained unprepared, and many others complained of inferior reception.

In addition to a wide-reaching information campaign, the government is also offering free $40 vouchers for the purchase of digital converters that allow viewers to tune in to the new signals.

Television stations have broadcast analog signals since TV first became commercially available in the 1930’s. Industry proponents say the switch was needed to provide viewers with a better picture and more stations. But many viewers who have made the switch complain that they have access to fewer stations, especially those that they used to receive with only a mediocre analog signal.

A recent survey by Nielsen Media found that some three million households remained totally unprepared for the switch while a further eight million were only partially prepared - meaning that they had converted one television in the house but not others.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is raising billions of dollars by selling off the freed-up spectrum to mobile phone operators, has set up a 4,000-people phone bank to help deal with issues.

Acting FCC chairman Michael J. Copps has conceded that the impact of the change was falling hardest on poor families, the handicapped, the elderly and in homes where little English is spoken.

In addition to the FCC’s centre, many stations set up their own response operations to help viewers manage the transition. “The call centre is going crazy,” said the Louisiana station WAFB, which cut its analog signal at 7 a.m. “Believe it or not, a lot of people saying

they didn’t know anything about the switch.”

The switch has helped prompt a 32 percent rise in TV sales this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, and is also boosting demand for cable and satellite television service which is unaffected by the transition to digital broadcasting.

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