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One percent of Wilmington households sought help following transition

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin reported to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Sept. 16 that 1 percent of the households in Wilmington, NC, called the commission’s toll-free help line for assistance following the city’s DTV transition Sept. 8.

Of the 1828 calls received, the chairman told the subcommittee, 329 were related to converter boxes. According to Martin, he directed commission engineers and outreach staff to work with viewers to correct their problems. Of the converter box issues in Wilmington, FCC staff resolved 80 percent of the problems, he said. Many problems were relatively simple to correct, requiring viewers to take steps such as rescanning the channels on their televisions or hooking up the box properly, he said.

A bigger issue — one that is not easily correctable for those in the Wilmington metro area — is the loss of reception of WECT, the NBC affiliate. According to Martin, the station’s DTV coverage pattern is different from its analog pattern, which left some viewers between Raleigh, NC, and Myrtle Beach, SC, without coverage. In all, the help line received 553 calls related to the issue, he said.

The DTV cliff effect was not a major factor responsible for reception problems, Martin said. Even if all of the 397 calls related to reception problems that weren’t caused by WECT’s change in coverage contour resulted from the cliff effect, that means less than 0.25 percent of viewers in the Wilmington market fell of the DTV cliff, he said.

Before reporting the result of the Wilmington transition, Martin credited Commissioner Michael Copps for challenging him and the industry to conduct early DTV transitions so lessons could be learned that will help with the February 2009 nationwide digital switchover. “Commissioner Copps deserves credit for urging the commission to engage in a real-world test that would help ready the broadcasters, viewers and us for the upcoming transition,” he said in prepared remarks.