With the second full-scale switch to digital TV from analog well under way in Hawaii, problems similar to those encountered in an earlier switchover to DTV in Wilmington, N.C., are hampering some consumers.
While officials in both locations generally hailed the switch, some consumers have encountered problems ranging from no service at all to difficulties in installing digital-analog converters for their existing TV sets.
Wilmington was set up last September by the Federal Communications Commission to be an official test site as a dress rehearsal for the national switch originally scheduled for Feb. 17. The Hawaiian switchover took place last week so cell towers wouldn't be tampered with so as not to disturb nesting grounds of the dark-rumped Hawaiian petrel, an endangered species of bird.
Problems were similar in both locations: In spite of bombardments of media messages, some people didn't get the message until they couldn't get their TV reception while others had trouble rigging converters to their old analog TVs. In both places, officials and volunteers manned help phone lines to talk consumers through installation processes and, in some cases, made house calls to assist consumers.
In spite of rosy projections by FCC and TV industry officials, the problems appear to be severe enough for Congress to be considering delaying the nationwide switchover from Feb. 17 to June 12.
Residents with old analog-only television sets tend to be poorer or less able to purchase new digital sets or to purchase satellite or cable broadcast TV. Civil rights and consumer groups have expressed concern that the switch will impact the most vulnerable segments of the U.S. population -- minorities, seniors, the disabled, and citizens on fixed incomes.
While there has been concern in getting enough converters into the hands of the public, a new surprising problem has arisen -- some consumers can't get any over-the-air digital signal at all. Early this week, some Hawaiian television industry officials said they were planning to move transmitters around in hopes of reaching consumers who can't receive digital broadcasts and are suddenly without reception.