March 11, 2008

TV IN THE 21ST CENTURY

By Senator Mike Crapo

We've certainly come a long way from the television pioneering days of Philo T. Farnsworth, one of Idaho's finest inventors. Eighty years ago, the young inventor developed the theory that resulted in the first electric television. That unit and its contemporaries present a stark contrast to today's televisions. Early televisions had notoriously large electronic tubes and devices supporting very small screens; today's televisions are almost all screen, driven by tiny microchips. Television mechanics and the science of broadcasting have undergone the same mammoth changes as other technology in recent years, and we're on the cusp of another revolution in television. As many of you know, full power broadcasters will cease analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009, and begin broadcasting television signals in a digital format. This change will free up critical analog bandwidth for public safety communications and for wireless services. 

 

This represents a significant change for many, but especially elderly consumers, minorities, individuals with disabilities and those in rural areas. As many as 400,000 Idahoans could be affected by this change. In February and early March, together with the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Idaho's television broadcasters, I hosted a series of informational meetings around Idaho to help educate consumers about the upcoming change to digital television and the assistance that the federal government will be providing.

 

To broadcast over mountainous terrain, Idaho makes regular use of devices called translators, which receive signal from major full power stations and repeat or "translate" them to a targeted broadcast area.  These translator stations are not mandated to change to digital by the 2009 date.  Many translator stations are being prepared for the transition by converting to digital only.  Thus, many will also begin broadcasting in digital on February 18, 2009.  Others may be equipped with a converter that will receive digital signal and translate it to analog.  As a result, some viewers who are served by certain translator stations may continue to receive analog, over-the-air signals after the transition. If you receive your signal through a translator, please contact your local translator district to determine its plan for the digital transition. 

 

The transition to digital television is a positive step. A digital signal is clearer and carries better sound quality. To receive digital signals, consumers who do not subscribe to cable or satellite will need to either purchase a television with a digital tuner or purchase a digital-to-analog converter box. To assist consumers with the financial cost of this transition, Congress has established the "Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program," which provides households with two $40 coupons to help offset the cost of the converter boxes.

 

Idahoans, like many other Americans, rely on their televisions for news, entertainment, weather and emergency information.  Given the fact that the percentage of Idahoans who receive their television signals over the air rather than through cable companies, is higher in Idaho than in many states, it's critical that recipients have access to the latest information about how this digital transition will affect them. 

 

Like any major transition, this has its set of challenges, but they are far from insurmountable. There are local, state and federal information sources available to help. If you would like more information about the upcoming analog to digital television transition, please call my offices or visit my website:  http://crapo.senate.gov . You will find a list of frequently asked questions and links to coupons at the site.  

 

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