Viewpoint: New digital TV reception remains fraught with problems

Everything regarding the transfer from analog television to a digital signal has been like the class

Several weeks before the June 12 cut-off date, the airwaves were deluged with warnings that analog television transmission would no longer be extended, and unless a converter box was purchased for the transition to digital broadcast for all pre-2005 televisions, your set’s picture would dissolve into images of snow.

To help with the conversion, a toll-free phone number (1-888-Call-FCC) was provided for those who might need assistance.

But everything regarding the transfer to a digital signal has been like the classic Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” Attaching the converter box to the television was no problem, but the resulting reception was.

Many stations that had previously come in on an analog signal completely disappeared. Or an established picture would be redrawn in pixels, break up and subsequently vanish.

Dutifully, I called the “FCC” hot line, only to learn it was not a part of the FCC, even though it had used the agency’s much-recognized initials in its given phone number.

In reality, the hot line is serviced by a private organization contracted by the Federal Communication Commission to help with any complications from the changeover.

First suggestion

Once assured that my converter box was properly attached to my antenna, the phone specialist thought the difficulty I was having might be that my indoor antenna needed updating from “rabbit ears” to something designed to handle the new digital signal.

Upon this suggestion, I rushed out to the local electronics store and purchased the latest, state-of-the-art indoor antenna, touted as the top in its line, to the tune of $80.

I hurried home and installed my new acquisition, only to find my reception did not improve at all.

So, it was back to the help line.

After listening patiently to my frustration, the digital specialist surmised that the poor results I was getting could be interference because of my geographic location, or that perhaps it was the digital signal being sent out by the local broadcasters.

To the first possibility, I replied that I had not received interference of this kind with analog reception, and FCC Chairman Michael Copps had guaranteed Congress, and the public, that digital television was completely ready and waiting to replace analog, making no qualifications about inadequate signals, upgraded equipment, or otherwise. Copps made his statement back in February, in support of his opposition to extending analog’s new cut-off date to June 12.

Even more perplexing was that after June 12, the local CBS affiliate (Channel 6) had to request permission from the FCC to increase its digital signal capacity, which contradicts Copps’ assertion that everything needed for the switch from analog was in place for Feb. 17.

One can only gather that maybe other stations need to increase their digital output also, but that would be too obvious a solution.

Millions of viewers who were ready for the February transition, and took to heart Commissioner Copps’ confident declaration, have found their digital signal inconsistent and much less reliable than what existed in their home television sets prior to June 12, before the digital changeover was complete.

This strange anomaly baffles the hot-line “specialists,” one of whom suggested I call the individual broadcasting stations to alert them of interrupted viewing.

So many stations

Alas, there are so many problem stations, it would require hours of my time researching the proper contact numbers and contact people for the right solution.

In the process, I would need to recite to each person the myriad troubles I have had with their digital broadcasts.

Is strengthening the signal what is needed, as was the case with Channel 6, which now comes in consistently and strong?

Rather than having me call each station that is not transmitting as it should, or is breaking up sporadically, I asked my telephone guide, in an agitated voice, losing my cool; “Just what is the function of the FCC?”

And, what about Commissioner Copps’ repeated promise that all systems were a “go” for the February switch? But, I quickly realized that raising my voice was the equivalent of baying at the moon, because whatever the intrinsic issue might be, it was beyond the ability of the hot-line operators to remedy.

My parting remarks were in the way of a “bottom line” kind of statement:

The transition from analog to digital has cost me personally upwards of $100 for a converter box and a new indoor antenna (I have since learned that an upgraded digital indoor antenna should be amplified to compensate for a decrease in volume that seems to be yet another feature of analog vs. digital broadcast).

That unit sum is then multiplied out by each television set in my household.

And, several million viewers caught up in the switch-over have spent similar dollars for their digital necessities.

Added to this is the frustration of being in the middle of a program that suddenly breaks up, loses its picture, its sound, and then cannot be retrieved.

Systemic problem

There is a systemic problem with digital television that the FCC is either ignoring, or knows it is beyond their scope to correct, which was never mentioned while campaigning for the transition.

We are three months into the digital revolution, and there has been no marked improvement with any of the preliminary “glitches” that needed to be worked out.

After the massive quantity of consumer money that has been spent to alleviate the audio/visual problems associated with this mandatory conversion, viewers like me are saddled with a flawed system that nobody seems to know how to repair.

Meanwhile, the phones at Dish TV, as well as the cable companies, are ringing off the wall with the public’s resignation that the era of “free” TV may have approached its end.

William Wrigg lives in Clifton Park. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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