Most Minnesotans ready for DTV switch Fridayby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
The new digital TV deadline is almost here. On Friday, June 12, all TV stations stop their old-style analog broadcasts and switch to digital-only transmissions. Congress delayed the switch from last February out of concern many people weren't ready. But the vast majority of Minnesotans are ready now.
St. Paul, Minn. — The nation's switch-over to digital-only TV broadcasts has been postponed several times over the years. And the challenge that the transition poses for some people has prompted some parodies of the confusion.
Even now, not everyone is ready. But the Nielsen research organization estimates 97 percent of households in the greater Twin Cities are ready. They have at least one TV set somehow capable of viewing digital TV signals.
Maybe that's why Drew Koppe isn't too busy. Koppe staffs a kiosk at the Maplewood Mall where confused consumers can get guidance about the switch-over to digital-only TV broadcasts.
Koppe suspects most people know exactly what to do. That's based on how many people ask him for help in a typical day.
"It hasn't been too busy--like four people a day, maybe" he said.
Koppe notes people with digital TV sets are ready for the transition, and don't need a special converter. And Koppe said all TVs connected to cable or satellite TV services are also ready.
"If you have cable or satellite, you won't even need this box or anything. You just continue with your satellite or cable," Koppe said. "I think we've had more customers wondering about coupons than anything really."
Those government-issued $40 coupons are good toward the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes. Boxes typically sell for $40 to $60.
Consumers who do not subscribe to pay television services and have older, analog televisions need converter boxes if they want view over-the-air TV broadcasts. The boxes convert digital broadcasts into signals that are viewable on old sets.
Every household is entitled to two coupons. Coupons can be requested by phone or over the Internet.
Residents of the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area have ordered nearly 1.2 million coupons. But as of the end of May, only about 700,000, roughly 60 percent, had been redeemed.
Jim du Bois, president of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association expects a smooth change. He notes that a third of Minnesota TV stations have already stopped analog broadcasts and gone digital-only. Their early switch-over to digital probably nudged some TV viewers into getting ready.
"It was definitely a wake-up call for people and got them to do what they need to do," du Bois said. "So, hopefully on June 12, the transition will be at least a relative non-event -- and certainly not Armageddon."
du Bois suspects the biggest problem may be with antennas. He said some people receiving over-the-air broadcasts may find they need a better antenna to get a good digital signal.
Preparedness for the switch may be lagging in some minority communities, especially those with large non-English speaking populations.
Txong Pao Lee, executive director of the Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul, estimates half of the Hmong in St. Paul gets their TV over the air. And Lee believes many of them are not ready for June 12.
"A lot of people out there don't know what's coming soon. This will be a problem we can solve. But it might take time," he said.
There's concern, too, about senior citizens. Seniors who need assistance with the transition can get free help from Volunteers of America Minnesota. The group will even send a technician out to a senior's home to hook up converter boxes and resolve reception issues.
Spokeswoman Nancy Christianson said her organization has been getting a few dozen calls a day lately.
"Most of the people look at the converter box and the directions and they just can't do it," Christianson said. "Or once they do it, the reception is so bad that they can't really use it. So, they kind of give up."
But those folks who succeed in setting themselves up for the digital switch-over may find the effort is well worth it. With the transition to digital TV, consumers eventually could see a doubling or tripling of the stations available to them free of charge from local broadcasters.
Some stations, including TPT, Twin Cities Public Television, have already added additional channels.
- Morning Edition, 06/08/2009, 6:50 a.m.