Connie Book, associate dean of the School of Communications, along with student Lauren Limerick, testified Sept. 16 before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. They discussed findings of their recent study of the nation’s transition to digital television.
Book led a team of students to Wilmington, N.C., Sept. 8 to document the first test in a major U.S. city of the DTV transition process. TV stations in Wilmington shut down their analog program broadcasts, and the Elon students fielded telephone calls from viewers who had problems receiving the digital signals.
In their Washington testimony, Book and Limerick joined Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin, along with top government officials and leaders in the broadcast and cable television industry in discussing the steps that should be taken prior to the nationwide transition to DTV that will take place February 17, 2009.
Book created the following recommendations based on the study conducted by the Elon team:
- More field tests should be conducted. Broadcasters across the country should be blinking the analog signal more often and during viewers’ favorite programs to create a sense of urgency that they need to prepare for the digital transition.
- More can be done at the point of sale of converter boxes (likely to be Walmart) to educate consumers about antenna frequency, height and direction. The local broadcast engineering staff should be busy over the next month testing signal strength at local points throughout their designated market areas, creating one page documents with neighborhood level data related to antenna positioning. Government communication needs to be improved to address antenna information.
- Television is the primary way residents are learning about the digital transition. Analog television signals can be used more effectively during the transition by having local talent demonstrate how to connect converter boxes, antennas and correctly set-up a new digital television receiver. This loop should play continuously during the actual transition and during testing phases. The FCC’s call center phone number and information about local centers established to assist can run as a crawl across the bottom of the screen.
- Television stations should establish models of signal reception environments so they can handle calls to the station effectively. More staff will be needed the day of the transition and for a few days immediately following to handle calls.
- Communities will have some hardship cases of residents unprepared. Broadcasters and retailers should be empowered with the ability to provide digital converter boxes to address these situations and be assured of compensation to follow.
- The weeks before the transition and especially on the holiday weekend of the digital transition, entice viewers to switch by offering exclusive programming on the digital channel.
- The most important lesson from Wilmington’s test was that the vast majority of citizens trusted the government’s decision and was prepared.