BREWER, Maine — People should prepare now for the switch to digital TV, which will occur countrywide in mid-February, especially those with older TVs, a Federal Communications Commission adviser told locals on Wednesday at an “ask the expert” forum.
“You need to act now,” Lewis Sigalos, FCC’s Digital TV Outreach Initiative program director, said to about 30 people who gathered at Brewer Auditorium. “We want to make sure everybody is ready. So many people have older TVs.”
The federal government has required all full-power television broadcast stations to switch to digital signals on Feb. 17, which means older analog TVs no longer will work, unless connected to a digital converter box, which converts the digital signal to analog.
Those with digital TVs or who have paid cable or satellite service are all set.
The government is offering a $40 coupon for the digital converter boxes, which can be acquired by calling 1-888-DTV-2009 or online at: dtv.gov. The FCC Web site also is a great information resource.
Many at the Brewer gathering said they were frustrated with the process because they couldn’t get the coupons or because reception with the converter boxes was not good.
Sigalos told the gathering that if they had problems getting their coupon, “go to family or friends and ask them to order one for you.” He said filing a complaint would result only in “endless frustration” especially since the coupon program is automated.
Each home is allowed to get two coupons, which will be available until March 31. Sigalos also suggested ordering the coupons now, because it’s taking about three weeks for delivery.
“I live right here in Bangor, in the [Bangor] Gardens [near Broadway], and I have an awful time getting WABI” using a converter box, said Gary McCoy.
Others, including a couple of people from Hancock County, echoed McCoy’s sentiments.
Judy Horan, general manager for WLBZ-TV, said there are some issues with reception, especially with rural residents who get a weak signal now.
“Because you don’t get a good signal now, it indicates to me that you’re going to have an extremely difficult time getting a signal” after the switch, she said.
Horan added specifically that residents in Orland, with its hills, may have a difficult time with reception, and that “Hancock County is a challenge. You will have difficulty getting any of the channels, unless you’re on a hill.”
Digital signals can be blocked by topography, structures, trees and even the weather, Horan said.
Residents who use “rabbit ear” antennas on top of their older TVs also may need to install rooftop antennas to continue to receive the free over-the-air programming with their older TVs, Sigalos said.
“Reception issues seem to be more [of an issue] here” in Maine, he said. “That is an issue I’m finding here in Bangor.”
He strongly suggested that people get the digital converters as soon as possible to see if their signal at home is strong enough, because “I don’t want to see people up on their roofs in February” putting up antennas.
Residents also can check the antennaweb.org Web site to see how strong the digital signal is near their homes, it was announced at the meeting.
All television reception devices, which include TVs, VCRs, DVRs and other items, imported into the U.S. or shipped from state to state after March 2007, must contain a digital tuner, according to the FCC Web site.
TVs marked with labels containing the words “Integrated Digital Tuner,” “Digital Tuner Built-In,” “Digital Receiver,” or “Digital Tuner,” “DTV,” “ATSC,” or “HDTV” or “High Definition television” are digital TVs, the Web site states.
It’s older analog models that will need equipment to pick up the digital signal.
“When you live on a fixed income … it’s going to be hard to purchase” the items needed to maintain free TV, McCoy said.
Horan said her station is working with the public to try to address all the issues, but added that there “is a possibility” some residents will lose the ability to watch local TV channels.
To end the meeting, Sigalos stressed again that people should begin to prepare now for the switch to digital TV.
“You’re going to make a big mistake if you don’t take action now,” he said.