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Clock counts down to analog TV shutdown; millions remain unprepared

With just over a week before the long-anticipated completion of the DTV transition, about 3.1 million U.S. households, or 2.7 percent of all television households in the country, remain completely unprepared, according to Nielsen.

That figure, the latest snapshot of the situation taken May 24, represents significant progress in helping the public prepare when compared to the days leading up to the original Feb. 17 DTV transition deadline, when 5.7 percent of U.S. households were unready for the switch off of analog TV service.

In the four months since the delay, the government, broadcasters, and private contractors and community groups have had a notable effect on reducing the number of unprepared households.

As part of legislation to kick start the U.S. economy passed in the earliest days of the Obama Administration, millions more dollars were allocated to funding the DTV converter box coupon program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The money effectively broke a logjam created when the agency ran out of money to fund more coupons earlier in the year.

Broadcasters, too, have done their part to raise awareness of the impending analog switch-off. Most recently, TV stations in more than 125 markets took part in what the FCC dubbed a DTV “soft test,” during which the stations interrupted their regular program on their analog channels for three to five minutes to warn viewers that they would lose reception if they took no steps to prepare for DTV reception within the next three weeks. The on-screen text advised viewers to call the FCC helpline if they required assistance, which generated 55,000 calls — the greatest one-day call volume to date.

Since the delay of the Feb. 17 deadline, the commission also has contracted with independent organizations and worked with volunteers from the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and firefighters in cooperation with the International Association of Fire Chiefs to help people where they live. More than 200,000 in-home visits will have occurred by June 12 at no charge to the viewer to assist with installation of set-top converters and antennas.

Despite all of these and other efforts to help the public prepare, it must be noted that more than 2 million households are likely to remain unprepared when the transition occurs. How that impacts broadcasters and the government when the “analog off-switch” is thrown June 12 remains to be seen.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.