Nationwide DTV test hits snags with Comcast, Dish

Yesterday, local TV stations in 42 states and DC participated in the first nationwide digital television consumer readiness test. Broadcasters turned off their analog signals some time between 5:00 and 7:00 pm ET.

Aside from some noteworthy exceptions, the results so far seem largely favorable.

In addition to local stations setting up hotlines that serve their broadcast area, the National Association of Broadcasters created a national toll-free number to serve as the information link for US consumers still in the dark about the switch to digital broadcasting that will take place in 61 days.

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And of the hundreds of stations that switched off their analog signals yesterday, only a few reported a populace in uproar, and these were mostly due to signals getting cut off for people who actually were prepared.

In Lafayette, Indiana last night, Comcast subscribers who were under the impression that they would be unaffected found themselves staring at a test pattern instead of their local CBS affiliate, WLFI 18. Comcast appears to be still broadcasting the station's analog signal to customers in outlying areas of the market.

"Obviously we're having some issues with Comcast still getting our analog signal and have them update to our digital signal," said Chris Hilgendorf, WLFI's Director of Studio Operations.

About 115 miles away in Fort Wayne, Indiana, testing reportedly went smoothly and local stations are prepared for the next test on January 17.

The DTV test in Huntsville, Alabama had the same problem with Comcast subscribers in Scottsboro and Dish Network subscribers were similarly affected. The test occurred at 5:25 pm, and according to the Huntsville Times, hundreds of complaints came in from Dish customers who lost their signal.

"The Dish Network thing was a surprise," said WHNT news director Denise Vickers, "We're going to follow up with that."

Dish Network spoke to BetaNews this afternoon and said that it is still in the process of converting its markets to digital local reception, and Huntsville is one that is yet unfinished. The company says it has between 25-30 markets that it is still working on, but is certain the conversion will be complete by the February 17 deadline.

At 6:00 pm in Arizona, the local phone bank set up to field questions from customers was quiet. Tuscon Arizona's KMSB Fox 11 reported that "phones barely rang, which could mean that everyone is ready for the switch, or no one was home when the test happened."

The National Association of Broadcasters anticipates that its national hotline will receive two million calls over the five days following the official DTV switch on February 17.

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