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Transcript: Thursday, June 11 at 11 a.m. ET

Digital Television Conversion

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Jessica Almond
Legal Advisor, Federal Communications Commission
Thursday, June 11, 2009; 11:00 AM

Are you prepared for the digital television conversion on Friday, June 12? We've asked the experts for help.

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Jessica Almond serves as a legal advisor to the chief of the media bureau at the Federal Communications Commission. She's been involved in digital television transition issues for the past year, and has traveled across the United States to help inform consumers about the transition.

The transcript follows.

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Jessica Almond: Good morning everyone. Happy you're here!

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Washington, D.C.: If you inadvertently allowed your converter coupons to expire, are there any places in D.C. to exchange an expired coupon for a new one or do you have to call the 800 number to request a replacement?

Jessica Almond: For anyone with expired coupons, you can reapply for a coupon at www.dtv2009.gov or by calling 888-DTV-2009.

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Lyme, Conn.: Will all transmissions switch to digital? This doesn't affect me, yet my cable operator stated that some stations are going to continue with the old signals even after the deadline? Is this true?

Jessica Almond: All full power stations will transmit only in digital. In some areas there are low power TV stations that will continue to broadcast in analog, although many of these stations now broadcast in digital as well.

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New Brunswick, N.J.: I have cable, but Comcast sent me a new "digital receiver" and a new "digital transport adapter" for my two old televisions.

I only got them a week ago and haven't had time to even look at the documentation. Do I have to try to connect them BEFORE the switchover, or can I do it at my leisure?

And, don't these pieces of equipment, with their thick documentation, fly in the face of the assertions that "If you have cable, you don't have to do anything?"

Jessica Almond: Comcast's digital cable service is not related to the digital television transition. In some areas, Comcast is moving certain channels to digital tiers, which means you need a digital cable box to receive them, but this isn't related to the digital transition.

If you have cable, even without a box, you are prepared for the digital switch.

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Nederland, Tex.: If I buy a new digital TV, I won't have to worry about any interface box or special antennas, right?

Jessica Almond: That is correct, if you buy a new digital tv you will probably still need an antenna to receive channels, but you won't need a converter box.

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Bristow, Va.: I purchased two converter boxes. However, they don't work on my small, pocket-sized TV sets that I use when I'm outside working in the garden. How come no one has addressed this topic of converter boxes not working with some TVs? All I see is signal strength questions.

Jessica Almond: The box needs to be connected directly to an antenna in order to pull in the TV signals. I'm assuming your pocket size TV has an antenna built into the body of the TV, so there isn't a cord to connect the antenna to the converter box.

If you want to use your current portable tv, you'll need to buy an extra antenna to hook to the converter box.

New digital portable TVs are available at retailers and online - if you decide to purchase one of these you won't need the converter box.

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Washington, D.C.: One of my girlfriend's TV sets was manufactured in November 1981, according to the sticker on the back. It uses one of those ancient loop antennas that connects to the TV via spade connectors with two screws, whereas the converter boxes have a coax in jack for the cable from the antenna and then a jack for another coax run to the TV. Do you know whether there is any sort of adapter or other way to hook up a converter box to an old TV of this sort that was manufactured prior to the days even of cable TV? She usually has that TV on when she's cooking (it's in her kitchen), so she doesn't think it makes sense to spend money on a new TV in there and would like to keep this one, but I don't have a clue how to configure it. Thanks in advance.

Jessica Almond: There is an adapter that will convert the coax connection to the 2 screw connection. It's called a balen and they usually run under $5. I've seen them at most Radio Shacks and Best Buys.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: I have a five year-old Sony TV connected to Comcast cable. No converter box. What can I expect tomorrow? Thanks.

Jessica Almond: You'll be fine! Since you subscribe to cable you should expect to no changes tomorrow.

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Hyattsville, Md.: I have a converter box already hooked up along with an antenna. I get the regular channels, but they seem to freeze up and the screen will say low signal, most of the channels come in. Do I need to get a stronger antanna? Could it be because it hasn't fully switched over yet. Thanks!

Jessica Almond: Have you tried moving your antenna to a different location or adjusting the way it's pointed? If that doesn't resolve the issue you may need a stronger antenna. Wait until after the stations have switched tomorrow, make sure that you run the scan function on your box, and see what kind of reception you get tomorrow. If you still have the same problems, consider buying a new antenna.

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Ramsey, N.J.: Thanks for taking my question. The first time I scanned the channels, the converter box came up with about 15 channels. The other night I scanned again (it was raining) and it came up with about 11. Is this a common occurrence?

Jessica Almond: It is, rain tends to interfere with digital signals, so when you ran the scan some of the signals may have been too weak for the box to pick up. Try scanning again on Saturday after all the stations have switched and you should see all 15 again.

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Dayton, Ohio: I have a Hitachi digital TV. Do I need a converter box?

Jessica Almond: Nope, if you have a digital TV you don't need a box!

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Antique TVs and recycling: Just found out our mom's TV is soooo old that she can't even use a converter box (don't ask how old). So we are going to buy her a new tv. How can we recycle the old TV?

Jessica Almond: There are quite a few options for recycling old electronics. Many local governments have recycling options, you can donate it, or you can search for your options on these sites:

Earth 911 www.earth911.com/electronics

National Recycling Coalition www.nrc-recycle.org/localresources.aspx

My Green Electronics www.mygreenelectronics.org

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South Riding, Va.: I have old analog TV sets and cable. That puts me in the category of people who don't need to do anything to get ready for the conversion to digital. But, I do have my old rabbit ears behind one TV for those few times each year when the cable is out. And I have a few radios that can tune in the TV stations. Are there any cheap options for having the infrequent need to get access to the new digital signals?

Jessica Almond: Order one of the $40 coupons from NTIA www.dtv2009.gov and then purchase one of the $40 boxes to use as a back up. At the most you might

You can usually find $40 boxes easily online at retailers like Amazon.

Jessica Almond: I was trying to say that at the most you might pay shipping and handling for the box!

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Arlington, Va.: I'm having a lot of trouble understanding the front page story in the Washington Post about the switch that will occur tomorrow. The Post tells us that millions of people who rely on their TV are unaware of the change and that they will have no way to receive important emergency information. First, if you watch television even ocassionaly, you had to have seen dozens of advertisement in ths past few months informing us of the change. Second, even people in the lowest income levels have access to radios - I've seen them for sale for about five dollars. How much of this "problem" is exaggerated by the new media?

washingtonpost.com: Here's that story: Digital TV Rules the Tube, (Post, June 11).

Jessica Almond: Actually I think the numbers refer to people who are unprepared, not unaware.

Seems like everybody knows about the switch, but people are still procrastinators!

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Atlanta, Ga.: I have converter boxes. Screen says "NO SIGNAL." Boxes are connectedproperly with new HD antenna. What to do?

Jessica Almond: Call 1-888-CALL-FCC, they can walk you through troubleshooting your connection and help figure out the problem.

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Spokane, Wash.: I have a 2005 TV and notice whenever I press the button to turn off the TV, it goes to SLEEP mode and the converter box is still on. I have to turn the TV back on, a number of times, then off, and then manually turn off the converter box. What is going on?

Jessica Almond: You need to turn the converter box off with the remote for the converter box. If you've programmed the converter box remote to work as a universal remote for both your TV and your box, there are 2 different power buttons on the remote, one for the TV and one for the box.

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Medford, Oregon: What sort of antenna will be required to receive local channels after the conversion?

Jessica Almond: You need an antenna that can receive both UHF and VHF signals. Traditional indoor antennas will have both the rabbit ears and the bow tie or loop.

The newer antennas have many different shapes. Be sure to read the box and that the antenna will receive both UHF and VHF signals.

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N.Y.C.: Apparently, I needed TWO cords, but only got one. What to do?

Jessica Almond: Your box should've come with one cord, to connect it to the TV, you should use the existing cord from your antenna to connect the antenna to the box.

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Ewing, N.J.: What are the benefits of switching to digital TV?

Jessica Almond: Hi Ewing! Lots of good things happen because of the switch to digital TV, you'll see a better picture and sound and get extra channels.

When the TV stations turn off their analog signals public safety officials and emergency responders will be able to use those signals to communicate better with each other.

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Virginia: I live in the mountains and didn't realize until recently that the DTV signal is UHF. On the switchover date, my digital TV will go totally dark. Are there any programs to help people like me find a solution? So far I've spend quite a bit of money to purchase a digital TV, an HDTV compatable antenna and a signal amplifier.

Jessica Almond: Does your antenna receive UHF signals? If so your TV shouldn't go dark. I want to note that you don't need a special HDTV antenna to pick up digital signals.

Many broadcasters are broadcasting in HD, your regular antenna will pick them up - but you won't get the full benefit of HD if you don't have an HDTV.

Call 1-888-CALL-FCC if you would like someone to go over your equipment with you and tell you if you'll be OK tomorrow.

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D.C.: We have a neighbor who just asked whether her TV "is going to change." Where should we direct her for answers to her questions? Don't think she's online. And, will the FCC be able to handle calls -- especially over the weekend?

Jessica Almond: She should call 888-CALL-FCC. The FCC has operators on hand 24 hours a day now and they should be able to handle all the calls!

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Arlington, Va.: I just got a new TV last week and hooked it up with my old rabbit ear antenna. I got very good result on some channels. Will I get better reception on more channels if I buy a digital antenna? Thanks.

Jessica Almond: Try moving your antenna first, and then rescan your box Saturday. If you still aren't getting great results from some channels you should consider a new antenna. Make sure it will pick up both UHF and VHF signals.

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Alexandria City, Va.: Will cable channel line-ups change? It seems that this transition to digital means everything will be HD now, so I don't see why I would need to pay extra for my cable service just to have two copies of the same station.

Jessica Almond: Cable line up changes are a business decision of your cable company. Only broadcast stations are going digital (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox and other local stations)as a result of the transition, so any changes in HD offerings are purely up to the cable company.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Jessica! I am a Comcast customer with two televisions: an HDTV and an analog set. The HDTV is connected to a cable box with HD service. The analog set is connected to a coaxial cable with no box. Will the analog set continue to receive signals after the switch?

Jessica Almond: Yup, you're fine! If you have any sort of cable service you're prepared for the switch.

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Washington, D.C.: Exactly what time tomorrow are the local (D.C.) stations going to take their analog signal off the air? Will it be 12:01 a.m., 11:59 p.m., or somewhere in between? Just thought it would be interesting to watch as the analog picture fades to black! (Or static, probably.)

Jessica Almond: Your local stations are all changing at different times of the day - a few in the early morning, a few later in the morning a few in the afternoon and a few late at night.

This is true in many areas, the switch won't occur at one set time!

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Olney, Md/: To that guy in "the mountains": If he is watching digital version of his local station (maybe like the one in Harrisonburg, Va.), it is already on UHF channel 49; they just call it channel 3. After the change tomorrow, not one VHF digital channel is moving to a UHF, but many now-UHFs are moving back to VHF. So if you see it now as an HD channel, it will remain the same or improve.

Jessica Almond: Good advice! Another opportunity for me to remind people to rescan their boxes on Saturday in case some of your channels move.

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N.C.: We bought a digital TV and hooked our old (but high-powered antenna) up to it, and the TV didn't seem to recognize the antenna (the manual says the TV needs to be hooked up to a digital antenna). So we got a converter box and hooked that up to the VCR/DVD player and the antenna, and we get a few digital channels, but less than half of what we had before. Do we have to break down and buy a new antenna, or is there something else we can do?

Jessica Almond: Please call 1-888-CALL-FCC and describe your equipment to the call operator. They can help you figure out if you need a new antenna or if there's just an issue in the connection.

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Hyattsville, Md.: I purchased a pair of rabbit ears on Friday night. I hooked them up correctly to my converter box, picture was crisp Friday night and all day Saturday. Since Sunday, I have not been able to get one digital channel. What can I do to fix this issue?

Jessica Almond: It's been raining/pouring here since Sunday, so I'm sure that's affecting your reception. Try to move your antenna to a different location and see if your reception gets better when (if!) the weather ever clears up! If this is a consistent problem you might want to purchase a stronger antenna, instead of the standard rabbit ears.

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Falls Church, Va.: Can I get HD TV over the air starting tomorrow or do I still need cable/satellite for HD? I'm confused over digital and HD. Will HD be transmitted over the air starting tomorrow?

Jessica Almond: Some stations are offering HD over the air - not all. You will need a cable or satellite subsription to receive any HD programming for channels other than your local stations like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and PBS.

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Arlington, Va.: Do I need to buy a new TV if I don't have cable? Why does the government hate my trusty antique rabbit-ear antennas?

Jessica Almond: You don't need a new TV, if you get a converter box your old TV will work fine!

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Pontiac, Ill.: I live in the country and have used an outdoor antenna forever. Bought a converter box and 2/3rds of the channels I used to receive now show weak signals and no pictures. New antenna work will cost over $1,000. This is progress?

Jessica Almond: Please check your outdoor antenna. They tend to deteriorate over time. If you were receiving fuzzy analog stations, the digital ones just won't come through. With a weak analog signal you'll see snow and get sound or a fuzzy picture. With a weak digital signal, you won't see any picture.

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Anonymous (for obvious reasons): I get cable at my house only because we have cable internet and cable phone and they can't stop me from getting TV cable when that signal is coming into the house. Will I still have cable TV tomorrow, if I have no converter or box? And at what time will the switch occur? Thanks.

Jessica Almond: Anonymous, you probably shouldn't be telling the FCC such things, but yes, you should still have cable tomorrow. The switch happens at all different times during the day.

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Springfield, Va.: I'm sure you're hearing this A LOT, but this transition is certainly not going to go smoothly. I have installed converter boxes on two TVs. I also purchased two $80 antennas (box type made for digital reception). I hooked up my converter boxes and get no signal on NBC Chan 50 (in the Washington market) or any PBS channel. The only thing left for me to do to get regular TV is to get a roof antenna and we can't have those where I live. My mother lives in a condo in and has the same problem. We all cannot get channel 4 because of the interference of trees. TREES! So frustrating. Yes, I have scanned repeatedly. Yes, I have moved my antenna around and NO, I am not spending another dime on making this work. I just wanted you to know that for a great many people, some channels will never come in again.

Jessica Almond: We are aware that many people will lose some stations. I'm sorry you're frustrated and have lost some channels. I'm hoping that you have better reception after tomorrow. Have you tried calling the stations to see if they have any suggestions? It's also helpful for the stations to know where people aren't able to receive their signal.

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Jessica Almond: I'm at the end of my time, thanks everybody for the questions! I want to remind you that if you need help we have people answering DTV questions 24 hours a day now at 1-888-CALL-FCC and you can also go to www.dtv.gov.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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