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Questions remain over DTV switch

FCC representative visits Auburn to discuss June 12 conversion from analog
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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There are still plenty of questions being asked as the Federal Communications Commission moves toward the switch to digital TV signals on June 12. An FCC representative was in Auburn this past week to answer some of the ones from people who are happy with their analog TVs and get their signals over the air with the help of set-top rabbit ears or an outdoor antenna. Meadow Vista’s Charlie Williams came away from the session pessimistic about his chances of pulling in a strong-enough digital signal from even local Sacramento stations. FCC digital coordinator Emmanuel Domkam used the dtv.com Web site to zero in on Williams’ address and pinpoint how strong or weak signals from the stations would be. Then he helped Williams, who now uses indoor rabbit ears to tune in TV stations, fill out a form online to receive a $40 coupon from the federal government for a set-top digital converter. Williams said he’s going to give the over-the-air signal a try but believes now that he’ll have to start paying for a cable TV link. Satellite dishes don’t work where he lives because of tree cover, he said. “I can stomp my feet and huff and puff but it’s still going to happen,” Williams said. “The picture looks pretty grim.” Domkam did have some shreds of good news for the half-dozen people who attended the session and have been quite content to own aging analog TVs and take advantage of free, over-the-air analog stations. When the June 12 change comes and analog stations go off the air, many of the now-digital stations will be boosting their signal, he said. Domkam added that TV stations will want to know which viewers aren’t being reached, particularly in the fringe areas of their signal. Once the new signal strengths are established, viewers should contact stations with weak or no signals. The federal government is providing incentives to widen the reach of those signals, he said. In Auburn, all the Sacramento TV station digital signals are available over the air, with some stronger than others. Some areas with few obstructions to antenna clusters on Mt. Diablo also pick up San Francisco feeds as well. Bob Roan, a rural Auburn resident who lives in a valley, said his analog TV and outdoor antenna picks up channels 3, 6, 10, 13, 31 and 40. When an inversion layer changes atmospheric conditions, San Francisco stations 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9 are clear but he loses Sacramento. After hearing the FCC presentation Thursday, Roan said it appears he may be turning on a TV with no signals — even if he goes out and buys a digital converter. “We don’t watch that much TV to begin with,” he said. “But it looks like I’m in deep trouble with this whole thing.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.