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A test to help consumers prepare for the transition to digital television drew a record number of calls for help and information, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said.
The FCC said that a "soft test" last Thursday drew 55,000 calls from consumers who need help or have questions about the June 12 transition from analog to digital television. That's up substantially from the average number of calls (15,000) the FCC has received daily since May 1. More than 125 broadcast markets, including at least one station in each of the nation's top 30 markets, conducted the test.
The highest volume of calls, 1,310, came from the Chicago area, followed by New York, where 1,277 people called for assistance. The Dallas-Fort Worth market drew the third-highest number of calls, with 764 people dialing the FCC hot line for help.
Among states, California ranked highest, with 8,090 residents calling. The FCC received 7,735 calls from Texas and 4,849 calls from Illinois, which ranked third.
More than half of the callers (51%) wanted more information about the federal government's converter box coupon program, which offers $40 for set-top boxes that allow old analog television sets to work with digital signals. Some 15% reported problems with service and 10% needed instructions for installing the converter boxes.
"This soft test did exactly what it was supposed to do," acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said in a statement. "It was a wake-up call for consumers who are unprepared, alerting them to the fact that they need to take the necessary steps before the June 12 DTV transition."
The test aimed to simulate what unprepared viewers would experience when signals switch to digital. Instead of completely cutting off the analog signal, the soft test allowed broadcasters to interrupt regular programming of viewers receiving analog signals and warn them that the interruption indicates they are not prepared for the transition. Those viewers must take steps to prevent a complete loss of service in about two weeks.
The FCC's help line explains those steps and provides instructions for installing converter boxes. It also gives information on local DTV educational events and information about in-home installation services. The FCC's DTV Web site and walk-in help centers also provide that information.
Nielsen estimates that about 3.3 million U.S. households, or 2.9% those with television sets, were still unprepared on May 10 for the transition. The FCC is still trying to help those customers prepare for the end of analog broadcast service. The FCC said the switch to digital would improve sound and picture, expand the number of channels and programs to choose from, and clear airwaves for advanced mobile Internet services and first-responder radio service.
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