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Benefits from the digital TV switch

Marketplace Staff Jun 12, 2009

Benefits from the digital TV switch

Marketplace Staff Jun 12, 2009


KAI RYSSDAL: As you may have heard — oh, I don’t know 6 or 7,000 times and more than a couple of times right here — television stations have to make the switch from analog broadcasts to digital today. You may also have heard about the possibility that some viewers will be left behind when the switch takes place. Screens may go dark even though Congress delayed the changeover by four months.

But for the rest of us the digital transition could be worth the wait as Joel Rose reports.

Joel Rose: All day, TV stations across the country have been flipping the switch from analog to digital. Here’s what it sounded like on WTSP in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Dave Wirth: And right here the man that’s going to pull the switch. Ken, do the honors!

Ken Tonning:

Okay, here we go!

That’s what you’d hear if you tried to watch over-the-air TV on an old set, and you don’t have a digital converter box yet. There are still about 15 million people who are getting their TV the old-fashioned way: no cable, just a handful of networks and a couple other free channels. But once you get the box hooked up:

Joel Kelsey: You’ll notice a much better picture and much better sound quality than ever before.

Joel Kelsey is an analyst with Consumers Union. He says digital TV also offers more choices, since each station can broadcast on several different channels at once. But Kelsey says some consumers may have trouble getting some channels.

Kelsey: With a digital broadcast it’s either all or nothing. You get the picture, or you don’t get the picture. So that’s what people are calling the “cliff effect.”

Even if you don’t have to do anything to your TV, you’ll benefit from the digital switch. First responders got a slice of the old analog spectrum for free. The government auctioned off the rest. Verizon and AT&T were the biggest spenders.

Charles Golvin: They’re going to provide much fatter wireless broadband pipes. So consumers are going to be able to get much higher-speed wireless broadband access.

But Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin says wireless companies won’t be ready to begin offering service on that spectrum for at least two years.

I’m Joel Rose, for Marketplace.

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