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Delay to DTV transition offers only partial local reprieve

Last week, Congress passed a bill delaying the deadline for transition to digital-only broadcasting from Feb. 17 until June 12. Minnesota's U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar authored the bipartisan legislation, along with Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Last week, Congress passed a bill delaying the deadline for transition to digital-only broadcasting from Feb. 17 until June 12. Minnesota's U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar authored the bipartisan legislation, along with Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

She did not want to risk "millions of Americans being without television" Feb. 17, Klobuchar said, putting the blame squarely on the previous administration.

"Unfortunately, after guarantees that the Bush Administration would adequately prepare and protect consumers, only at the last minute did they reveal that funding has run out -- just weeks before the plug is pulled on analog TV. While the digital TV transition should happen, this delay is necessary to make up for the lack of preparation and regrettable mismanagement of the transition on the part of the Bush Administration," Klobuchar said.

It's only a partial reprieve, however, for people in the Twin Ports who aren't ready for the switch.

That's because the majority of local television stations are going ahead with the planned switch to digital-only broadcasting. KBJR Channel 6 and WDIO Channel 10 will turn off their analog signals Feb. 17. FOX 21 already made the switch Feb. 1. KRII TV, out of Hibbing, turned off its analog signal Jan. 6.

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"We got a steady stream of calls for the first couple weeks," said Dave Jensch, station manager for Granite Broadcasting, referring to KRII.

"But we got zero calls, complaints and e-mails by the time we played the Super Bowl, even the week before and the week after," he added, noting that 65 percent of sets in use were tuned to the Super Bowl.

The switch from analog to digital will have an even greater impact in the Northland than many other areas of the country. In terms of percentage of viewers getting their signal over the air, Jensch said, we rank among the top 10 in the country.

According to the November 2008 Nielsen Book, total cable saturation in this area is 40 percent, and satellite is 38 percent and an estimated 22 percent of viewers get their TV over the air. Jensch thought the percentage in the immediate Twin Ports area is even higher, close to 30 percent.

It's those people using an antenna who either need a converter box or a newer television with a digital tuner. (A TV connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service doesn't require a converter box.)

Jensch said local stations believe most of the population here is ready for the switch.

"We estimate maybe 3.5 percent are digitally unprepared," he said.

The fix is usually simple for those with converter boxes or newer TVs who still experience problems.

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Jensch said most people who aren't getting the DTV signal simply need to rerun their channel scanner, located either on the converter box or the TV itself.

"You just hit your channel scan on the remote, and it goes out and finds all those digital channels," Jensch said.

Wait 90 seconds and, presto, problem solved.

Not sure if you have the right kind of TV set? It's easy to check: Just turn to Channel 21-1 (FOX TV). If you can't get a picture, you need to make some changes.

Not sure where to start?

Locally, the city of Duluth Parks and Recreation Division Senior Programs is coordinating a citywide effort to assist seniors with converting their televisions to the new digital television signal.

This new program will consist of a hotline (call 730-4388), assistance with obtaining coupons to purchase a converter box, and assistance with setting up the box.

However, Jensch said it tends to be the under-35 population who are the least prepared.

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Cable company Mediacom announced this week that it will offer free installation and free basic cable service until June 12 to households that do not have the ability to receive over-the-air broadcast signals. This offer applies only to areas where Mediacom already provides services, which includes Proctor and Hermantown, but not Duluth. If you have questions about the Mediacom offer or want to order, call 1-800-332-0245.

For your information

  • To apply for coupons, call 1-888-388-2009 (voice) and 1-877-530-2634 (TTY).
  • To order coupons online: www.DTV2009.gov
  • Duluthians can call the Senior Hotline at 730-4388
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