Millions off the air as analogue TV gets replaced by digital technology

June 13th, 2009 - 12:44 am ICT by John Le Fevre  

Millions of Americans could suddenly find themselves without television service today as broadcasters across the US turn off outdated analogue equipment and switch over to new digital technology.

The shutdown of analog channels frees up the airwaves for modern applications such as wireless broadband and TV services for cell phones.

In preparation for the end of analogue transmission the Federal Communications Commission put 4,000 operators on standby for calls from confused viewers, and set up demonstration centers in several cities.

Volunteer groups and local government agencies were helping elderly viewers set up digital converter boxes that keep older TVs functioning.

A survey sponsored by broadcasters showed that Americans are well aware of the analog shutdown, thanks to a year-long barrage of TV ads – but not everyone was sure exactly what it means.

Any sets hooked up to cable or satellite feeds are unaffected, while newer, digital TVs that get broadcasts through antennas — and older sets hooked up to converter boxes — should be fine, but they will need to be set to “re-scan” the airwaves, to find stations that move to new frequencies today.

Originally scheduled for February 17, the end to six decades of analogue transmission was extended after the government’s fund for $US40 converter box coupons ran out of money in early January and additional funding was injected into it from the national stimulus package.

Research firm SmithGeiger LLC said Thursday that about 2.2 million households were still unprepared as of last week. Sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters, it found that 1 in 8 had not connected a digital TV or digital converter box.

Nielsen Co., which measures TV ratings with the help of a wide panel of households, put the number of unready homes at 2.8 million, or 2.5 percent of the total television market, as of Sunday. In February, the number was 5.8 million.

Nearly half of the nation’s 1,760 full-power TV stations have already cut their analog signals, though they are mostly in less populated areas.

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