DTV Transition Fallout Continues

There are reports of spotty or no reception of network and independent signals, especially in some of the major markets.
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There are reports of spotty or no reception of network and independent signals, especially in some of the major markets.

While the June 12 transition to full power digital-only television transmission was initially viewed as successful by various government and private sector organizations, some of the fallout that’s trickled down since then indicates not all is sweetness and light.

While the reprieve from the February 2009 shutoff date did help both off-air viewers and broadcasters better prepare for the inevitable, there are still reports of spotty or no reception of network and independent signals, especially in some of the major markets. That list includes New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and Los Angeles.

Several stations in these and smaller DMAs transitioned back to their original VHF (mostly high-band) frequencies and this seems to be where a lot of the difficulty lies. It’s reported that with the FCC’s authorized DTV power levels in some large cities, VHF signals just don’t have the punch to penetrate into the thickly clustered high rise buildings and reach set-top antennas. The FCC is working with broadcasters on a case by case basis to try and achieve a solution to the coverage loss.

Also, as most of the VHF DTV broadcasting is confined to high-band channels, many viewers haven’t figured out that they need to reel in their max-extended rabbit ears to favor the shorter wavelengths.

Bill Hayes, director of engineering and technology for Iowa Public Television, reports that in Des Moines and Iowa City, public television broadcasting reverted back to V channels with mixed results.

“People with indoor antennas are not getting us, or any of the VHF’s, anymore,” he said. “People with outdoor antennas are telling us how much better the VHF is than the UHF was.”

He added that “some interesting discoveries” have been made too in connection with the rescanning of DTV sets and converter boxes.

(The FCC issued a statement on June 15 that in some cases a “double rescanning” may be required to make DTV tuners wake up and nail the new channels. This involves doing a rescan without an antenna connected, powering the DTV or STB down for a while, and then doing a new scan with the antenna connected.)

Another factor in the reception loss may stem from a misunderstanding by some consumers and dealers alike that DTV transmissions would only be done on UHF channels. This resulted in the sale and installation by well-intentioned individuals of new antennas that are inadequate to receive even high-band VHF signals. This seems to be especially true in the Los Angeles area.

A total of 975 television broadcasters wrapped up analog transmissions on June 12, impacting an estimated 15 million off-air households. The National Association of Broadcasters reported that 317,450 calls for help were received by a national call center on that day.

The FCC initially reported that there was no widespread disruption of television service following the shutdown of hundreds of analog transmitters. The commission said that most of the problems fielded by its call center could be resolved by assisting viewers with tuner rescanning procedures. However, even the commission admitted that getting everything back on an even keel will not be that easy.

“I am pleased with the way our FCC team responded to the technical challenges that arose throughout the course of the day,” said Michael Copps, acting FCC Chairman. “But our job is far from over. This transition is not a one-day affair. We will continue to work with every consumer who needs assistance in making this important and necessary transition.”

On another front, the analog shutdown wrapped up operations for some 35 full power stations that for one reason or other did not to come back up in digital. Seventeen of these were Equity Media properties. That company had had previously declared bankruptcy and put stations on the auction block. Other telecasters that went dark are reported to be having technical difficulties on switching over to digital and may be coming back to life in the months ahead. These operations carried Fox and other network programming, but off-air viewers in affected markets may not suffer a loss as the net feeds could be carried on ancillary channels of other stations that did make successful transitions.