Dingell, Markey Have DTV Transition Questions For FCC, Broadcasters

Early analog cut-off in Wilmington, NC is raising concerns
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House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and Telecom Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) still have some unanswered questions coming out of the September early analog cut-off in Wilmington, NC, and have asked the FCC and broadcasters to fill in the blanks.

In letters to the relevant parties three days before a Newseum event kicking off 100 days until the Feb. 7, 2009, transition date, the pair of legislators said they wanted to know how they were addressing "many problems" uncovered by that test, including people who did not know they had to rescan for digital channels, adjust their antennas, or could no longer recieve a station because of changes in coverage area.

They asked for answers by Friday, Nov. 14.

Below is a copy of the letter:
The Honorable Kevin Martin

Chairman

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Martin:

We write with respect to efforts undertaken by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that consumers are educated about the digital television (DTV) transition, including requiring broadcasters to air public service announcements about the transition and working to make Wilmington, North Carolina, a DTV transition test market.  The Wilmington test revealed many problems related to the transition, including consumers who (1) did not know they needed to rescan their boxes to search for new channels after the switch, (2) needed to obtain or adjust antennas to receive digital signals, or (3) were no longer able to receive a station’s signal because that station’s digital signal contour differs from its analog coverage area. 

Because one goal of the Wilmington test was to identify and correct problems related to the transition, we are interested in the lessons the Commission learned from the test and steps it plans to take to avoid similar problems when the rest of the Nation transitions to digital on February 17, 2009.  To better gauge the extent to which the transition is on track, we respectfully request answers to the questions below.  Please submit your responses to us by Friday, November 14, 2008.

            Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this request.

Sincerely,

____________________________________                   ___________________________________

John D. Dingell                                                                   Edward J. Markey

Chairman                                                                      Chairman

                                                                                    Subcommittee on Telecommunications

                                                                                    and the Internet


RESCANNING CONVERTER BOXES

            What is the Commission doing, or what, specifically, does it intend to do to let viewers, including viewers without ready access to the Internet, know that they need to rescan their digital-to-analog converter boxes after February 17, 2009?

ANTENNA ISSUES

1.      If a viewer cannot receive certain local digital signals using a digital-to-analog converter box, how is that viewer supposed to determine that she needs to obtain a new antenna or adjust an existing antenna to correct the problem?

2.      What is the Commission doing, or what, specifically, does it intend to do to let viewers, including viewers without ready access to the Internet, know that they may need to obtain a new antenna or adjust an existing antenna to receive over-the-air signals after February 17, 2009?

SIGNAL CONTOUR ISSUES

In Wilmington, 735 of 2,272 calls—one-third of all calls received about the test transition—related to loss of one station’s signal due to a significant difference between the signal’s analog service area and its digital service area.  Many stations’ digital signal coverage areas will differ from or be smaller than their analog service areas because they cannot immediately maximize their digital signals, they are changing from a multidirectional to a unidirectional antenna, or the new digital service area does not exactly replicate their current analog service area, or for other reasons.

1.      How many full-power stations have digital signal coverage areas that are smaller than their analog signal coverage areas?  For those stations, please identify each station and its market and detail the amount of service coverage loss as a percentage of households in the station’s current analog service area.

2.      How many full-power stations will have digital signal coverage areas that do not exactly replicate their analog service areas and will result in more than two percent of existing households not being able to receive the new digital signal?  For those stations, please identify each station and its market and the amount of service coverage loss as a percentage of households in the station’s current analog service area.  Please also indicate if such station will also gain households in its digital service area not currently reached by its analog service.

3.      If a viewer cannot receive certain local digital signals using a digital-to-analog converter box, how is that viewer supposed to determine that this is because the station’s digital signal contour is smaller or coverage in certain areas is weaker than its analog signal contour and coverage strength?  In other words, how will the viewer know that she resides within the analog signal contour, but outside the digital signal contour?


SIGNAL CONTOUR ISSUES (Continued)

4.      What are stations whose digital signal coverage areas are smaller than their analog signal coverage areas doing, or what, specifically, do they intend to do to let affected viewers, including affected viewers without ready access to the Internet, know that they should expect to lose a particular station’s signal after the DTV transition because the station’s digital signal contour is smaller than its analog signal contour?

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