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May 2009
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Days are dwindling until digital TV switch

2:50 PM Wed, May 13, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
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We’re now down to fewer than 30 days until TV stations around the nation pull the plug on analog transmissions.

I’m sure that you’re as weary as we television people are to see the incessant reminders about the digital switch. If you’re reading this on a computer, chances are you are technically savvy enough to be already squared away with either a digital-capable TV set, a satellite or cable connection or a digital converter box (or some combination of the above).

But even with all the publicity surrounding this technology shift, we know that there will still be some people who push the power button on their remote control on June 12 and don’t see a thing on the screen.

For the most part, those who suffer a TV blackout are likely to be the poorest members of our society who can’t afford cable or satellite — folks for whom even a $10 or $20 commitment to a subsidized converter box would take away from food on the table or rent money to the landlord.

“The DTV transition — because it’s technical — can be intimidating,” said Melissa Palacios, who is part of an outreach team in San Antonio that is trying to make sure no one is left behind because of poverty or a language barrier. The Alamo City is believed to be one of the nation’s metropolitan areas that is least-prepared for all-digital TV.

Palacios illustrated the challenge she faces every day by telling the story of an older woman who just didn’t seem to “get” the digital TV switch until she was told that she wouldn’t be able to view her novelas (Spanish language soap operas) without a converter box.

In another case, a shady or perhaps uninformed retailer told a woman that the only way she could continue watching TV is to purchase a new set. Palacios and her associates set things straight with the consumer, got her a converter box for her existing television and sent the new set back to the store.

Palacios’ group is working to get bilingual information about DTV on city buses, banks, and even at all 120 local McDonald’s restaurants.

“It’s not too late to apply for a coupon,” said Erica Swanson, who is directing a seven-city DTV awareness campaign for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, speaking about the $40 vouchers provided by the government to subsidize the purchase of up to two converter boxes per family. She said that the federal agency charged with distributing the coupons is now delivering them within nine days — a big improvement over the lag time encountered by original applicants.

“The most important thing people can do is to help others,” Swanson said. “To make sure friends, family, community members are ready.”

Perhaps you have an unexpired coupon that you don’t need. Swanson urges you to donate it to a relative, a neighbor, a community center or a church that can provide it to a a person facing life without digital television.

And if you are already set up for DTV but are having problems with reception, the FCC has established a special help line for North Texans: 866-202-4596. The service is free.

Please don’t forget about WFAA’s comprehensive online section that has the answers you need for a successful digital transition:

• www.wfaa.com/dtv/

I’ve personally addressed hundreds of viewer questions about DTV over the past year, and I’d be happy to hear from you about any last-minute concerns. Write to me here:

• E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com




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