The national switch to digital television broadcasting on Friday spurred hundreds of calls to a phone bank at Elon University, where students and staff from the Federal Communications Commission assisted North Carolina viewers with complaints of lost TV signals or requests for analog-to-digital converter box coupons.
Led by Connie Book, associate dean of the School of Communications, nearly two dozen students collected demographic information from viewers, including gender, age, and home county. The largest number of calls dealt with North Carolina residents who needed a coupon from the federal government to purchase a converter box.
The DTV call center in Studio B of the School of Communications, organized in cooperation with the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, remained busy all day. The NCAB had conducted “soft tests” throughout the spring with stations that would temporarily halt their analog broadcasting to send a warning to viewers about the June 12 transition, which was a new deadline set after Congress and President Barack Obama postponed the initial Feb. 17 changeover.
Calls to the university arrived in spurts since television stations varied their transition times.
News stations from the Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and High Point, N.C., visited the center to film students at work and to get from book a sense of the questions posed by callers.
The postponed transition seemed to help residents prepare, Book said. That didn’t stop hundreds of residents from flooding the call center shortly after it opened at 6 a.m. Spanish speakers were also on hand to talk with non-English speakers affected by the move. The call center will be open all day Saturday, too.
More than 1,000 calls had been logged by mid afternoon. And that didn’t count people who called television stations directly to inquire about lost signals.
“We had at least 100 more calls that we weren’t able to log,” Book said of late morning call volume. She also found that some callers expressed indifference to the week’s wait for converter box coupons to arrive by mail. “There are people who live without TV. They’ll say, ‘I really only get one channel. It doesn’t matter.’”
Book said she was surprised by one caller who asked if converter boxes were available for car radios, which can pick up audio from television broadcasts. One caller described driving with her children who would listen to TV programs from the back seat.
Viewers with converters, or those who subscribe to cable or satellite providers, were largely unaffected by the transition. A handful of callers reported losing a signal despite their purchase of a converter box or their subscription to cable or satellite.
Some calls were handled within seconds. Students easily directed viewers to locations for obtaining a converter box or a coupon. Other calls took several minutes, notably from viewers who reported technical problems with equipment they had already purchased.
“Many of the people we’ve heard from are elderly and they may have been confused or didn’t know if they had a converter box or didn’t know if they had cable,” said Hayley Wahl, a senior biology major. Her friend from the Elon Phoenix tennis team, junior international business major Alberto Rojas, agreed.
Rojas recounted a conversation with one caller who said her converter box remote control didn’t work. “There was nothing to say,” he said. “I told her to go to the place where she got the box and ask for a new one.”
For a history of Elon University’s involvement in the DTV transition, visit the link to the right of the page.