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Digital TV transition delayed

WASHINGTON, DC – Local homeowners still relying on a traditional antenna or “rabbit ears” to receive their television signal have been granted a four-month reprieve.

On Wednesday, the United States House of Representative approved the DTV Delay Act by a vote of 264-158. The bill, which now needs President Obama’s signature to make it official, postpones the date of the analog-to-digital television transition from February 17 to June 12. Under current law, all full-power television stations were required to cease analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009.

North Carolina First District Congressman G. K. Butterfield, who voted for the measure, applauded the passage of legislation, saying the delay was needed.

“Without this delay, far too many Americans would have been unprepared and left in the dark,” Butterfield said.

As the transition date drew near, Butterfield said it was very apparent that the existing government programs to support the transition are insufficient. One such program was a Converter Box Coupon Program, funded by Congress. The program provided up to two $40 coupons, for households still using a traditional TV antenna or rabbit ears, to offset the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes. Unfortunately, the fund was exhausted on January 4 and Butterfield pointed out that people are experiencing delays in receiving the coupons of up to eight weeks. Congress is expected to act soon to provide the funds needed for additional coupons.

Nationally, the waiting list for coupons has grown to more than 2 million people, including 5,958 individuals in Butterfield’s district, which includes all four counties in the Roanoke-Chowan area. Across North Carolina, there were 58,387 people on the coupon waiting as of February 2. Most of these homes are low-income, elderly, non-English speaking or disabled individuals.

“This will allow time to clear the waiting list and give people more time to learn more about what this transition will mean for them,” said Butterfield in regards to the four-month transition delay. “Even people who avoided the long waiting list, received a coupon for a converter box and then bought the converter box could still be left without a signal. Analog signals travel further than digital signals and many people still do not realize they may still need a new digital antenna to receive the signal.”

While cable and satellite TV subscribers will be unaffected by the transition, Nielsen Media Research estimates that about 6.5 million Americans are still unprepared for the change to an all-digital format.

To help those individuals learn more about the transition to a digital TV signal, Pintech Corporation, a Raleigh-based technology research firm, has been hired by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to conduct an outreach program.

To date, Pintech has scheduled two such informational programs in the Roanoke-Chowan area. Both will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 25 (11 a.m. until 12 noon at the Ahoskie Town Hall and 2-3 p.m. at the Elizabeth Sewell Parker Memorial Library, Main Street, in Murfreesboro).

Both programs are offered free of charge.

Additionally, Pintech has set-up a 24-hour DTV Hotline at 888-388-1733 where questions can be answered concerning the transition to the digital TV signal.

Additionally, through its partnership with the FCC, Pintech will have trained technicians who can come out to people’s homes and help install their converter boxes.

A total of 5,500 volunteers will be needed across a four-state region (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) to install boxes in the approximately 29,000 homes expected to request help. Volunteer organizations and groups are encouraged to contact the DTV Help Center at 888-388-1733 or go online to www.dtv-setup.com and fill out the Volunteer Form if they wish to help out.