FCC requirement for 'digital transition' will affect few

The Daily Courier photo illustration/Jo. L. Keener<p>
As of Feb. 17, 2009, over-the-air antennae will require a converter box for reception because of a federal mandate requiring the switch from analog to digital, but it will not affect those with satellite or cable service.

The Daily Courier photo illustration/Jo. L. Keener<p> As of Feb. 17, 2009, over-the-air antennae will require a converter box for reception because of a federal mandate requiring the switch from analog to digital, but it will not affect those with satellite or cable service.

Television viewing is moving to a digital age, with sharper images and better sound, and to free up analog broadcasting for emergency responders.

A federal mandate requiring the switch from analog to digital will go into effect Feb. 17, 2009.

However, the switch will affect tri-city area residents only if they have television sets that are more than five years old and rely on indoor "rabbit ears" or rooftop antennae for reception. They will need to buy either a new digital TV or a converter from electronics stores, or sign up for cable or satellite TV services.

These viewers appear to be in the minority, according to area industry representatives.

"Cable or satellite probably has over 90 percent penetration in our market," said Gary Hounslow, owner of Audio Plus in Prescott. "Very few people get (TV signals) over the air."

Hounslow speculated that rabbit ears or outdoor antennae account for only 1 percent of his customer base. He added that he declined to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is managing a nationwide coupon program to help people pay for converters.

Agreeing with Hounslow, Cable One General Manger Dennis Edwards in Prescott said he doubts whether antennae are prevalent in the tri-city area, adding it is more likely in the Phoenix area.

Phoenix stations rebroadcast their signals on translators in remote areas, such as atop Mount Francis in the Prescott National Forest, Edwards said.

"We take the Phoenix broadcast stations, uplink them to a satellite and distribute them throughout the state."

Edwards said TV viewers in the tri-city area who have rabbit ears or have antennae are "more likely" to receive poor reception from Phoenix stations.

Prescott resident Ann Petersen falls into the minority category. She said she bought her color TV set in 2004, but personal finances drove her decision not to subscribe to cable or satellite TV services.

"I have been doing without television all this time - years," said Petersen, a senior majoring in media arts for social change at Prescott College. "I look on the Internet; I rent movies and stuff."

Petersen, who may eventually pay for satellite TV, said she objects to the FCC "compelling this on everybody."

The FCC issued a press release March 3 in which the agency explained the order requiring broadcasters, telecommunications carriers, retailers, manufacturers and others to promote awareness of the transition to digital.

Besides improving picture, sound quality and public safety communications, the transition will make way for new wireless services, such as broadband, the press release stated.

Among other things, broadcasters must provide on-air information to their viewers about the transition, according to the press release.

Cable One recently sent a fact sheet to The Daily Courier via e-mail. Edwards stressed that the digital transition will not affect Cable One customers and satellite TV subscribers.

"The transition is going pretty seamless," Edwards said. He added that Cable One staff has fielded several calls a day beginning in December from people inquiring about the transition to digital.

Cable One channels 2 to 60 are analog, and channels 100 and higher are digital, or high-definition, Edwards said. The channels 100 and higher contain premium packages, such as HBO.

"We carry 18 high-definition channels, and plan to offer 10 more throughout the year," Edwards said. He explained that high definition offers a "clearer, crisper signal" than digital.

By contrast, DirecTV has broadcasted "100 percent digital" since the company's founding in 1994, said the company's public relations manager Jade Ekstedt, based in the Los Angeles suburb of El Segundo.

"This (transition) is not going to affect our customers as long as they get their channels through us," Ekstedt said.

Contact the reporter at khedler@prescottaz.com