DTV Transition: Down to the Wire

It’s still a glass half-full/half-empty situation. The rest of the full-power television broadcast stations are going to turn off their analog transmitters a week from this Friday, and according to Nielsen, about 3.1 million U.S households remain totally unprepared for the transition to digital TV broadcasts. That’s a lot of homes that aren’t ready.

On the other hand, about 3.1% of the homes weren’t prepared at the end of April, which means that 0.4% have become at least partially prepared in the past month. That’s about 500,000 , which is a sizable gain.

However, fewer than 2 million households have become at least partially prepared since the middle of February, which was when this transition was supposed to take place. It’s not at all clear to me that postponing the transition until next week was worth the extra money spent by the government and the broadcasters and other companies involved. Yes, a number of good programs to help people with the changeover have been launched in the past five months, but it’s nothing that couldn’t have been done at least a year ago.

And even with the preparation, it’s pretty clear that we’re still in for a rough ride. Last week, stations in 125 of the 210 market areas ran a brief test that simulated the analog cut-off. This resulted in more than 55,000 calls to the FCC’s toll-free help line (1-888-CALL-FCC). Most of the callers wanted information about the converter box rebate coupons, but about 10% needed help connecting their converters. And 15% called about problems with reception. And this doesn’t even include the calls that were received by the local television stations. Many of the households that are not completely unprepared are going to have problems, and there’s no way to know for sure how big that number is. When the change happens for real next week, I expect that the number of help calls nationwide could hit a million or more.

Stay tuned….