Federal Communications Commission member Jonathan S. Adelstein took to the pulpit Monday at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, preaching about the need to convert the masses -- to digital TV. His message was one that local ministers needed to hear, and that other community leaders also should take to heart.
According to the latest estimate from Nielsen Co., nearly 6 million households across the country are unprepared for the federally mandated analog TV cutoff, meaning that they have no way to tune in their local stations' digital channels. Homes with cable or satellite TV service are at least partially ready -- those services' set-top boxes can convert digital signals into the analog ones understood by older sets. So are homes with new sets that have built-in digital tuners. But those with analog TVs that receive programming through antennas will need converter boxes to tune in local digital broadcasts.
Congress recently passed a bill to push the analog cutoff from next Tuesday to June 12, giving consumers more time. Yet as the FCC knows from trial runs in North Carolina and Hawaii, a small percentage of TV viewers won't be able to complete the process of buying and connecting a digital converter box, no matter how much time they have to do it. That small percentage translates into a big number nationally -- more than 100,000 in Los Angeles alone, by Nielsen's last estimate. Besides, many communities won't have the extra four months to prepare. According to the FCC, 681 local stations, or more than 40% of all local broadcasters, plan to shut off their analog channels by Tuesday. That list includes more than a dozen in Los Angeles County.