Digital TV shift to hit the rural West?

EE Times writer Dylan McGrath notes in an article yesterday that the looming shift from analog to digital TV transmissions — currently scheduled for February 2009 — could impact rural and difficult-to-penetrate mountain communities in the West that depend on translators to re-broadcast weak signals.

While some of you big-city folks out there may be worrying that the shift to digital will render your older analog TV tuners useless without a converter box, the article suggests that many of us living out in the sticks could lose broadcast TV signals entirely. That’s because the FCC currently exempts translator stations from the costly mandate of having to convert to digital transmissions.

Such a mandate could be a somewhat moot point anyway, since many translators are operated by local governments and non-profit community groups, which may not be able to afford the $5,000 to $25,000 conversion cost.

So what’s the impact likely to be in places like my own Glenwood Springs? Not much.

Nearly everyone here already relies on either Comcast cable or Dish and DirectTV satellite services. The nearest Grand Junction TV signals are too weak and fuzzy to be worth watching, and Denver TV signals are non-existent on this side of the Continental Divide.

Similarly, most other American viewers are likely to view the shift with a big yawn, since most now get their TV from either cable or satellite services. A Neilsen Co. study released this month reports that the average U.S. home now receives 104.2 TV channels — up from 18 in 1985 and 61 in 2000. And you can bet those channels aren’t being delivered via the good old rabbit-ears antenna.

My sympathy to those still watching free broadcast TV. But for the majority of us who long ago got used to paying $50-plus a month for TV service, the coming shift to digital TV should be pretty much a non-event.


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