Viewer anger likely with Friday TV signal switch

The government is bracing for "significant problems" when the U.S. switches to digital TV on Friday, acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps says.

Consumers fiddling with antennas and converter boxes, which must be rescanned post-switch, will account for most problems. "There're going to be some angry consumers," Copps says. The switch to digital TV, or DTV, will start at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday. At that time, 974 full-power stations that cover major markets such as New York and Los Angeles will start shutting down analog signals. The transition is expected to be done by midnight.

More than 780 stations in smaller markets have already made the switch. Antennas and scanning have been consistent trouble spots.

About 3 million over-the-air homes won't be ready, Nielsen predicts. Digital, satellite and cable TV customers won't be affected. About 20 million households receive TV signals exclusively over the air, the National Association of Broadcasters says.

The number of affected homes would have been much higher — at least 6 million, Copps guesses — if Congress hadn't pushed back the switch by four months. "The delay gave us the opportunity to roll up our sleeves" and tackle a host of issues, he says.

Lawmakers delayed the switch from February to June when it became apparent that the government and the public weren't prepared.

Another 13 million homes are expected to be only partially ready, says the FCC, citing Nielsen data. That means at least one TV in the home — say, in a guest room or garage — won't be prepared.

Copps says many of these secondary TVs are used infrequently — for movies, gaming and such — or just sit idle. Some may never be transitioned.

To continue receiving signals on Friday, older TVs that reveive signals via antenna must be hooked up to a converter box that turns digital signals into analog. The government is offering $40 coupons — two per household — to offset the cost.

The FCC has contracted with vendors across the country for help with in-home installation services. The service is free, but consumers must supply their own converter box and antennas. Other tips:

•Don't forget to check antennas, which may need to be adjusted or even moved to a new location. To make sure you're getting all channels, rescan converter boxes.

•For more information, go to www.dtv.gov or call the FCC at 888-CALL-FCC.

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