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DTV Switch Is On: Millions To Lose Analog Signals

Virtually all TV stations are expected to have completed the switch to broadcasting digital television signals by Saturday. Three million U.S. homes are estimated to be unprepared.

More than 1,000 broadcast television stations across the nation began switching their transmission from analog to digital Friday while millions of Americans wait to see what effect the move will have on their TV sets.

With Nielsen's latest survey reporting that more than 3 million U.S. homes are unprepared for the switch to DTV, there are likely to be widespread complaints. A new survey sponsored by Harris, however, indicates that over-the-air reception for many Americans will improve TV reception, dramatically causing many to drop fee-based cable and satellite services.

Harris said the digital broadcast technology -- called Advanced Television Systems Committee technology -- improves TV picture quality by allocating more bandwidth to over-the-air HDTV. "The survey," said Harris of the 1,000-respondent poll, "found that a majority of people -- 69% -- feel the nationwide DTV transition will be good for them and their families. Fifty-five percent said they are somewhat or very likely to switch to antennas to receive free, over-the-air, high-definition TV signals (HDTV), versus subscribing to cable or satellite subscriptions."

In the meantime, the first encounter many Americans will have with DTV will be blank screens or fuzzy pictures. Since broadcast stations can switch their transmissions on their own schedules, some Americans will notice the change earlier than others.

Virtually all stations are expected to have completed the switch by Saturday morning. In addition to hundreds of its own employees, the FCC has enlisted thousands of volunteers ranging from firefighters to citizens groups to assist consumers in the switch.

RadioShack suggested that consumers rescan their converter boxes and digital televisions at least two times Saturday to ensure their reception operates effectively. Associates in RadioShack stores have been trained to assist consumers in the changeover. Converter boxes -- received by millions of Americans from the federal government -- are programmed to help consumers rescan through a setup menu on the converter box.

The FCC redesigned its DTV Web site, which includes a 15-page consumer guide to help consumers. The "DTV Made Easy" guide, written by Consumer Reports, can be downloaded or obtained by calling the FCC DTV help line, 888-CALL-FCC.

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