The test apparently did not get a passing grade.
Bloomberg News reports that federal and local offices were jammed with phone calls from residents complaining that they couldn't watch television. When the switch occurred at noon, analog sets would no longer display a picture on local channels; instead a message appeared saying residents must upgrade to digital equipment.
"Our phone lines were lit up for an hour straight between noon and one," Thomas Postema, general manager of WSFX, the Wilmington Fox affiliate, told Bloomberg.
Postema said many callers had purchased digital converter boxes, but didn't know how to connect them.
On February 17, 2009, all full-powered local stations must switch their analog signals to digital which means viewers will need a Digital TV, a digital converter box or a pay TV subscription to watch television.
Congressional lawmakers and others have raised concerns that many TV viewers will not be ready when the transition occurs. As a test for the nation, Wilmington's local stations agreed to officially switch to digital yesterday, five months early.
The Federal Communications Commission said its 'help line' yesterday received "several hundred" calls from Wilmington residents before 6 p.m. seeking assistance with their sets.
The complaints came although over the last few months, local and federal officials have bombarded Wilmington residents with TV commercials and other messages notifying them of the switch and offering tips on how to prepare for it.
`"It's been a grassroots initiative -- everything from going to blueberry festivals to Fourth of July celebrations to Rotary clubs and civic affairs clubs,'' Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said in an interview with Bloomberg News. ``You'd have to be living under a rock, or not watching TV, to not know about it.''
I have been saying for almost two years now that the federal government has not done enough to educate Americans on the switch to Digital TV. Additionally, the government has made it too difficult for people to buy the converter boxes that will enable people to watch TV on their old sets.
If people didn't believe me before, yesterday's results in Wilmington should be the ultimate persuader. The government spent a small fortune on a PR campaign to alert area residents and they still weren't ready.
Next February's nationwide transition to digital could become the Katrina of technology, creating widespread panic and chaos throughout the nation. The government better start taking this problem more seriously -- or else.
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Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He has been quoted in dozens of publications and broadcast outlets, including CNN, Fox News, Inside Edition, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Financial Times, The Associated Press and The Hollywood Reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 703-505-3064.
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