With the Digital Television conversion date only eight and a half months away, the end game is beginning. The FCC has announced that Wilmington, North Carolina will be a test market for the digital conversion, going all-digital on September 8 (or almost all digital, as the local NPR affiliate is not planning to turn off its analog signal, and one LPTV station will continue to operate in analog). This will provide the FCC with an opportunity to determine what will really happen when the digital transition occurs in February of next year. What will the FCC learn from this early test? In the statement of Commissioner Copps at a recent town hall meeting held in Wilmington to address the digital conversion, some of the issues to be watched were set out.
Essentially, the Commissioner identified four different broad categories of issues that would be considered. They are:
- Technical issues – will the DTV signals provide adequate service to their communities? Will the converter boxes be able to receive the signals with "rabbit ear" antennas, or will there be reception problems
- Will consumers have received the word about the transition, or are there certain groups that will be particularly hard-hit by the transition, missing out on vital information about that transition?
- How will various partnerships work? The Commissioner identifies partnerships between various industry, government and community groups to distribute news about the transition, but there are also partnerships between stations and multi-channel video providers (cable and direct broadcast satellite) that need to be worked out
- The unknown – what other issues that are not anticipated will arise?
As set forth below, many of these issues have been receiving extensive press coverage in recent weeks.