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Communities prepare for TV signal changes

by Brandon Roberts & Western News
| December 10, 2008 11:00 PM

More than a half-century ago, color television slowly made its way into American homes to pull in viewers from what had been a black-and-white world. Now, the next leap in TV viewing arrives Feb. 17 when the old analog signals change over to digital.

In Libby, however, residents will continue to receive analog signals unless the viewer subscribes to satellite or cable. On the other hand, Troy implemented a proactive TV tax district and the available public funding will bring those viewers into the digital age. 

“We are breaking new ground,” said Jay Olsen with the Troy TV Board. “It has been a struggle, though a real experience.”

Olsen said that as they tune the antenna they have found that digital channels do not switch as quickly as analog. Olsen also warned of what he calls the “blue screen of death” which is a digital channel without a signal.

Olsen recommends that Troy viewers re-run a channel scan to locate the digital channels once a converter box or applicable TV is connected. 

Due to antiquated translators high atop Indian Head and Sheldon mountains, which use 1950s tube technology, Libby residents receiving over-the-air TV will lose several stations come next February.

Jim Nelson with the Libby Video Club said the outdated equipment cannot receive a digital signal, and because Libby TV is operated by donation only, they lack the funding to upgrade its translators.

Nelson said the changeover would cost an estimated $15,000 just to receive a digital signal and $80,000 for a full digital output. Financially, the Video Club receives only $3,000 a year in donations and has an annual electric bill of $1,500.   

The Federal Communications Commission put out the digital mandate in 2005. However, it does not apply to rural translators like Libby. What it does mean is that the translator’s antenna will have to be fitted with converter boxes to change the digital signal back into analog.

Converter boxes on the translators are similar to what an individual must purchase for a TV without a digital receiver.

The FCC has offered a rebate on the purchase of converters for individuals and Nelson recommends Libby residents, even though they do not need them now but will need them in the future, should take advantage of the federal rebate while it is available.

“A digital signal is all or nothing,” Nelson said, adding that the days of ghosting and snowing TV channels will be a thing of the past. “If there is reception, the picture will be clear, there is no in between.”

Nelson said the Video Club is preparing to send out its annual donation requests to Libby residents.

“There is a need for over-the-air TV,” Nelson said. “This is happening, it is a crucial time. The system belongs to the community of Libby. They need to decide if they want to keep it going.”

For questions on the Libby Video Club, call Nelson at 293-1393. Send donations to Box 977, Libby, MT, 59923, or make a direct donation at either Glacier or First National Banks in Libby.

For residents who need to find out if their TV or antennas are digital or analog, Olsen said there are several resources available for people.

Call 1-888-DTV-2009, or go online to www.dtv2009.com or www.antenna.org for further information.

Digital TV Factoids

• On Feb. 17, 2009, analog signal transmission will stop.

• All TV sets made after March 2007 have a digital receiver.

• A new TV set is not required to receive a digital signal.

• Older TVs require a converter box to receive digital channels and a rebate is available through the FCC.

• To find out more information or check if a viewer’s equipment is applicable, call 1-888-DTV-2009 or go online to www.dtv2009.com or www.antenna.org .