NEW YORK — TV stations across the United States started cutting their analog signals Friday morning, ending a 60-year run for the technology and likely stranding more than one million unprepared homes without TV service.
The Federal Communications Commission put 4,000 operators on standby for calls from confused viewers, and set up demonstration centres in several cities. Volunteer groups and local government agencies were helping elderly viewers set up digital converter boxes that keep older TVs functioning. Any set hooked up to cable or a satellite dish is unaffected.
“When you’re alone like me, that’s my partner,” Patricia Bruchalski, 82, said about her TV.
Bruchalski, a pianist and former opera singer who lives in Brooklyn Park, Md., got assistance Thursday from Anne Arundel County’s Department of Aging and Disabilities and a community organization called Partners in Care. After her converter box was installed, Bruchalski marvelled that digital broadcasts seemed clearer and gave her more channels — about 15 instead of the three she was used to.
“You’re going to be up all night watching TV now,” volunteer installer Rick Ebling told her.
Around 15 per cent of U.S. households don’t have satellite or cable, and they tend to be poorer.
Nielsen Co. said minority households were less likely to be prepared for Friday’s analog shutdown, as were households consisting of people under age 35.
A survey sponsored by broadcasters showed that Americans are well aware of the switch, thanks to two years of advertising about it. But many people simply procrastinated.
“We know some viewers will wait until the very last minute, or even after June 12, until they take action,” said Paul Karpowicz, second vice chair of the television board of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Some people might also need new antennas, because digital signals travel differently than analog ones. While an analog station that came in imperfectly might have had static but remained viewable, digital generally comes in all or nothing. Indeed, one of Bruchalski’s newly available stations looked pixelated, and Ebling said she might have to get a different antenna.
The shutdown of analog channels opens part of the airwaves for modern applications like wireless broadband and TV services for cellphones.
The government reaped US$19.6 billion last year by selling some of the freed-up frequencies, with AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless the biggest buyers.
The shutdown was originally scheduled for Feb. 17, but the government’s fund for $40 converter box coupons ran out of money in early January, prompting the incoming Obama administration to push for a delay. The converter box program got additional funding in the national stimulus package.