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Morning Sun
  • Many rural residents still struggle with digital TV

  • In June, TV stations across the country shut down analog channels and started broadcasting in a digital format. The switch, however, has left some rural residents with more signal interruptions or fewer channels available on their television sets.

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  • Darlene DeRosear is among viewers who aren’t wowed by the advances of digital television.
    In June, TV stations across the country shut down analog channels and started broadcasting in a digital format. The switch, however, has left some rural residents, like DeRosear, with more signal interruptions or fewer channels available on their television sets.
    She says it’s been months since she could watch the local news or finish a television program without interruption.
    “(The picture) scrambles all the time, and the picture will freeze,” she said. “And then when you have a storm, your TV goes with every gust of wind.”
    Derosear and her husband live about 4 1/2 miles south of New Berlin, between Loami, Waverly and Franklin.
    She, her neighbors and residents in other rural areas say the problem persists even though they bought new television sets and converter boxes that are supposed to keep older TVs functioning.
    And because they live in outlying areas, subscribing to a satellite service often is their only other option for television.
    “In the country, we don’t have cable,” DeRosear explained. “It’s frustrating. I’d rather have the old system back.”
    After the switch from analog to digital, residents who subscribe to cable or satellite, have a digital TV set or have connected a converter box should be able to receive signals, although the Federal Communications Commission has said some people may also need new antennas.
    But residents in rural areas are more susceptible to what’s called the digital “cliff effect,” which occurs when residences are located out of the range of a digital television signal.
    Analog TV signals would appear fuzzy or distorted when viewers lived too far from a transmission tower. With digital, however, there’s no gradual degradation: a digital signal goes from clear to nonexistent when you move farther away.
    According to the FCC’s Web site about the digital TV transition, factors such as weather, trees, terrain, buildings and damaged equipment as well as antenna type, location and orientation also can affect digital reception.
    DeRosear said she’s not sure what’s hurting her poor reception, noting that she and her husband bought two new televisions that don’t require converters. They also have a 40-foot outdoor antenna.
    Nonetheless, she said, local channels all come in only sporadically
    “You’re watching (one station) and it looks like a big puzzle and then they talk like they’re in a tunnel, and then at once it’ll say, ‘No signal,’ and then it’ll be off for ten or 15 minutes, so we switch to another station. We’re constantly flipping around,” she said.
    “My mother-in-law lives at the bottom of the hill, closer to New Berlin than we are, and it’s the same thing.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Jeffrey Pontnack of rural Winchester says he and his family also are unhappy with their digital TV reception.
    “Before the switch, we picked up a decent amount of channels out of Springfield, Quincy and Decatur. Now we can’t pick channels up,” he said. “We just never know what channels are going to come in.”
    He said his family uses digital converter boxes and would like to avoid having to invest in more equipment or paying for satellite TV.
    “We’ve been bull-headed about it because prior to the switch, we were fine. Now, we have to go out and invest more money to get what we had prior to the digital switch. We may eventually do that,” he said.
    DeRosear said many of her neighbors and coworkers have subscribed to satellite TV already.
    Francie Bauer, a spokeswoman for satellite TV provider Dish Network, said the company did experience an increase in customers when the analog shutdown took place, though she didn’t have any specific figures.
    “I think certain people get fed up with the signal and call us,” she said.
    DirecTV, the other major satellite operation, experienced a similar surge.
    “We don’t have specific data on rural, or market by market, but across the board – both rural and urban – we saw tens of thousands of new customers come aboard our platform as a result of the digital transition – far more than we expected,” spokesman Robert Mercer said in an email.
    Dennis Lyle, president and CEO of the Illinois Broadcasters Association, said he’s heard of isolated cases of problems with rural reception, but nothing widespread.
    “Most of the problems appear to be in rural areas or in the case of very congested cities,” he said, noting this occurs nationwide, not just in Illinois.
    He said though the switch officially occurred six months ago, he stressed that the technology still is very new.
    “We’re finding many of the problems exist with the consumers’ equipment. People that in the past were able to receive over-the-air TV with the traditional rabbit ears may have to upgrade to a more serious or more state-of-the-art antenna for their house or, depending on where they live, they may have to go to a rooftop antenna,” he said.
    People experiencing a poor signal should contact the particular station to discuss the problem, Lyle said.
    “Every broadcaster wants to do anything possible to make sure viewers in their market area can view their product, and they want to be involved in that process in any way they can,” Lyle said.
    “By now, we’re heard enough of these stories, so there’s kind of a playbook that’s been designed where, ‘OK, this ZIP code is having a problem and it appears this antenna … is the best model that addresses this’ or it may be an equipment issue where a person needs a more modern antenna.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Consumers also must be willing to do some homework on what equipment can best serve their location, he said.
    “We feel their pain and certainly want to be of help,” Lyle said. “Unlike cable and satellite, we are free over the air. Unfortunately, to get that free over-the-air signal might mean investing a few dollars in expenses to help do that.
    “It is still new technology and there are still kinks being worked out, but the chances are the problem exists at the consumer end and not the broadcaster end.”
    Amanda Reavy can be reached at (217) 788-1525 or amanda.reavy@sj-r.com.
    For help
    * For help with digital converter box setup or other reception issues, visit www.dtv.gov or call 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).
    * Go to www.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/ to check the digital TV signals that are available in your location.
    How to improve digital TV signal strength
    An area’s terrain, trees, buildings can affect signal strength, as can the weather. Damaged equipment also can degrade reception, as can the antenna type and where it’s placed.
    Moving an antenna away from other objects and structures, or placing it higher, can often improve reception. Also, you may consider installing a signal booster, which should improve reception.
    If you are having trouble receiving a broadcast:
    *Check your connections
    *Perform a channel scan.
    *Adjust your antenna.
    Source: www.dtv.gov
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