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N.C. City To Make Digital Switch

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N.C. City To Make Digital Switch


N.C. City To Make Digital Switch

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

After tomorrow, broadcast television will never be the same, at least in Wilmington, North Carolina. That city is the guinea pig in the nation's upcoming switch from analog to digital TV. The city actually volunteered to help the Federal Communications Commission work out the kinks before the rest of the country changes over in February.

So tomorrow, broadcasters will shut off their analog signals and go digital only.

Catherine Welch of member station WHQR reports that in Wilmington, some people are wondering whether this is the best time for such an experiment.

CATHERINE WELCH: Wilmington volunteered to be first and the FCC jumped at the offer. But that choice has been criticized, in part, because early September is the peak of hurricane season. Nevertheless, FCC chairman Kevin Martin says this is when broadcasters wanted to flip the switch.

Mr. KEVIN MARTIN (Chairman, FCC): Hurricane season, you know, lasts for quite a long time and what was important is that we're trying to make sure that we do the test in Wilmington in time to still be able to learn things from it and put that in place before we go through the transition next February. So we talked about doing it earlier, but this was the time frame that they recommended that we try to do this on.

WELCH: Wilmington television stations and the Federal Communications Commission have worked hard all summer to make sure the transition goes smoothly. Local viewers have been flooded with information about the switch from trucks towing big rolling television sets touting the benefits of DTV to what must feel like the zillionth expo for Dan Ulmer.

Mr. DAN ULMER (Chief Engineer): So it's six with her analogue and now we're telling you six dot one isn't receiving her digital. But we're really...

WELCH: Ulmer is chief engineer at the city's NBC and FOX affiliates.

Mr. ULMER: I think most of the people in Wilmington area are ready for this.

WELCH: Some critics aren't so sure. Everyone from bloggers to the folks at Consumers Union have been fretting that hundreds of residents will find themselves without a signal tomorrow. Ulmer dismisses the notion and compares the Wilmington switch to Y2K when the nation's computers failed to freak out on a massive scale.

Mr. ULMER: Everybody thought that Y2K was - all sorts of horrible things were going to happen, and almost nothing happened.

WELCH: The Y2K comparison is also on the lips of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, only he's worried about the national switch early next year. And he doesn't think the DTV education effort is as organized as was the Y2K blitz.

Mr. MICHAEL COPPS (Commissioner, FCC): Well, my concern is that we're going to have significant problems on February 18th. Quite a few still don't know that this transition is coming. But more and more Americans do know it's coming, but they don't know exactly how it affects them.

WELCH: And they will find out how it affects Wilmington viewers tomorrow. Then the FCC will have five months to fix the glitches.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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