DTV Transition Sparked Calls but No Major Outages, FCC Says

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The U.S. switch from analog to digital television broadcasts on Friday caused no "widespread" disruptions of over-the-air service, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said.

The long-planned transition, which opened up valuable frequencies for mobile data services, had been rescheduled from the original deadline of Feb. 17. Hawaii stations went all-digital on Jan. 15, and 158 stations across the U.S. were scheduled to shut down analog broadcasts before the June 12 deadline, according to the FCC.

More than 317,000 U.S. residents called the FCC's toll-free help line on Friday, bringing the total number of calls to nearly 700,000 between June 8 and Friday, the FCC said. About 30 percent of the calls concerned the operation of digital converter boxes that many viewers of over-the-air broadcasts needed to connect to their TV sets.

Most of those calls were resolved when help-line agents instructed TV viewers to "re-scan" their converter boxes in order to find the new digital TV signals, the FCC said.

"I am pleased with the way our FCC team responded to the technical challenges that arose throughout the course of the day," acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said in a statement. "But our job is far from over. This transition is not a one-day affair. We have known about re-scanning and reception issues for some time and have been doing our best to get the word out. We will continue to work with every consumer who needs assistance in making this important and necessary transition."

The TV markets generating the most phone calls to the FCC help line were Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The average wait time on the help line was 4.6 minutes, according to the FCC. About 4,000 people staffed the phone lines.

Verizon Wireless and some other mobile operators, which acquired licenses for the former TV frequencies last year in a nearly US$20 billion auction, objected to the delayed transition at first but later agreed to the postponed date. Verizon plans to launch commercial high-speed mobile data services using an LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network in its 700MHz spectrum early next year.

Friday's transition was expected to bring TV for cell phones to 15 more markets, according to Qualcomm, which operates the Flo TV network through its MediaFlo subsidiary. The service had already gone live in 69 other markets through earlier acquisitions of TV channels. The new markets include San Francisco, Boston, Houston and Miami.

Flo TV can deliver as many as 20 channels of simulcast and time-shifted programming to cell phones and is offered by both Verizon Wireless and AT&T. It shows original content as well as shows from CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and other content providers. It is scheduled to become available in 24 more locations by the end of this year, reaching more than 200 million potential subscribers.

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