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Paul Loofburrow

Digital Conversion Involves Special Steps for Rural Viewers

OPB | May 6, 2008 3:35 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:13 a.m.

Since opening its digital help line in January, OPB has received more than 10,000 calls and e-mails about television’s switch to digital broadcasting next February. People want to know what steps they need to take to assure they can receive television when the digital transition happens next year. For those who live outside the metropolitan areas of Oregon and Washington, that may involve the use of a digital converter box with an “analog pass-through” feature or a digital TV with both analog and digital tuners.

Which Areas Are Affected?
OPB viewers who receive their signal over-the-air on any channel OTHER than 10 from Portland, 7 from Corvallis, 28 from Eugene or 3 from Bend are in areas that are served by translators. These areas will NOT be digital-only after next February. They will either remain all analog for some period of time, or have some mixture of analog and digital broadcasts.

Why the Different Process for Rural Viewers?
The Congressional legislation that requires all full-power TV broadcasters to switch to digital-only broadcasting after February 17, 2009 does NOT apply to low-power broadcasters and rural translators. There are about 400 in Oregon. Almost all of these broadcasters are analog-only today and will still be analog-only after next February.

In fact, it may take several months or years before all rural translators are switched to digital. This is due to the high cost of switching each translator, funding challenges and the labor needed to make the necessary upgrades at each site.

In addition, it is likely that translators will be switched on different schedules. For example, if OPB, ABC and NBC all have translators in one area, one station may make the digital switch before the others. In that case, some stations may be broadcasting using the current analog system while others may be broadcasting in digital.

This means that people in rural areas who do not subscribe to cable or satellite service need to be able to receive both digital and analog signals through their TV sets during this extended transition.

There are two ways for rural viewers who do not subscribe to cable or satellite service to continue to receive both digital and analog signals — they can either purchase a digital converter box with an “analog pass-through” feature or they can purchase a digital or high-definition television set with both analog and digital tuners.

Viewers purchasing a new digital or high-definition television need a set that has both analog (called NTSC) and digital (ATSC) tuners. Televisions manufactured now are required to have both tuners. As the transition moves along, televisions will eventually have digital-only tuners that will not process any signals that remain analog.

Rural Viewers Need Digital Converter Boxes with Analog Pass-Through

Digital converter boxes convert digital television signals back to analog signals so older, conventional sets will continue to work in the digital age. When using a $40-government coupon to purchase a converter box, the cost should be in the $20 to $50 range. One box is needed for each analog TV set.

Requests for $40 government coupons to help with the purchase of converter boxes can be made at dtv2009.gov or at 1.888.388.2009. It can take as many as 14 weeks for the government to process coupon requests. Coupons are good for 90 days after the date of issue.

The box rural viewers must buy contains a special feature called “analog pass-through” in order to assure that their television will continue to receive all local broadcasts both BEFORE and AFTER any local broadcaster switches to digital broadcasting. An “analog pass-through” box processes BOTH analog and digital broadcasts.

Consumer Alert

“Analog pass-through” converter boxes are not yet widely available in stores. There are also reports that some salespeople may not be aware of the need for the analog pass-through feature.

OPB recommends that viewers become as informed as possible before making any purchase. If consumers purchase the incorrect box using a government coupon, and need to return it to the store, the coupon will not be refunded due to the government’s efforts to protect against fraud.

OPB is working closely with retailers to ensure that they have the information they need to serve people in rural communities. We expect the “analog pass-through” boxes to become more widely available as summer nears.

OPB Is Here to Help

OPB is happy to send detailed information, at no cost, on how to make the digital switch to anyone who needs it. Our Member Center staff and volunteers are available to help weekdays from 9am-4pm at 1.800.241.8123 or by e-mail anytime at membercenter@opb.org. Information is also available on our Web site at opb.org/digital.

About OPB
OPB is the state’s most far-reaching and accessible media resource, providing free access to programming for children and adults designed to give voice to community, connect Oregon and its neighbors and illuminate a wider world. Every week, over 1.5 million people tune in to or log on to OPB’s television, radio and Internet services. As the hub of operations for the state’s Emergency Broadcast and Amber Alert services, OPB serves as the backbone for the distribution of critical information to broadcasters and homes throughout Oregon. OPB is one of the largest producers and presenters of national television programming through PBS, and is also a member station of NPR, Public Radio International (PRI), and American Public Media (APM).
The OPB Web site is opb.org.

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