Digital slowly comes to Summit County
April 23, 2009
Thanks to Summit Public Radio and TV (SPR), local residents using antennas will still receive a few channels once the nation goes digital.
Congress passed a law requiring all television broadcasting stations to switch from analog to digital transmissions by Feb. 17, but the deadline has been extended to June 12. However, Denver channels 7 (ABC) and 9 (NBC) converted to digital signals last week.
As a result, Summit residents who still use an antenna to receive television stations no longer receive channel 7 on local channel 10. But thanks to SPR, they’re still able to tune into channel 9, on channel 12, and now they’re getting FOX on channel 10.
SPR has three analog television translators set up on Baldy Mountain, allowing the organization to broadcast, in analog, KCNC channel 4 (CBS) on local channel 8; KDVR-31 (FOX) on local channel 10; and KUSA channel 9 (NBC) on local channel 12.
Television translator operators such as SPR are exempt from the current federal regulations concerning digital conversion, so they will continue to transmit analog signals for “the foreseeable future,” said Gary Peterson, director of engineering for SPR. SPR and its predecessors have provided free over-the-air television service in Summit County for more than 50 years.
Grant money in the amount of $1,000 from the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) allowed SPR to purchase digital-to-analog conversion units, used to adapt its television translators to receive digital signals, which then output analog signals.
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“In this way, at little cost to SPR and no cost to the antenna TV user, we continue to provide over-the-air television to our community,” said Suzanne Greene, president of SPR.
It is important to SPR to maintain analog signals as a service to locals because many translator associations in the state have been scraping translators, then later regretting it, Peterson said.
“We’re trying to maintain the status quo,” Peterson said. “Change is good, but consistency is good too. In times of great change, anything we can do to maintain consistency is worthwhile.”
Peterson tried to keep channel 7, but SPR’s receive antennas are at a point beyond where they can pick up a usable signal. Peterson described the problem like standing near the edge of a cliff: With digital signals, it’s all or nothing ” a station either comes in or blanks out ” as compared to analog signals, where the farther the antenna is from the station, the snowier the picture becomes. The channel 9 signal is close to the edge of the cliff, but the channel 7 signal is simply off the cliff.
SPR would like to apply for two more television translators to set up on Baldy, which would allow residents to receive two additional channels, Peterson said. The plan requires construction permits from the Federal Communications Commission.
If granted, SPR would probably bring in PBS and Telemundo (a Spanish language station) to Summit analog viewers.
The NTIA is developing a second grant program to help television translator operators purchase 100 percent digital television translators. This will allow local residents to receive true digital television, as well as the extra programming that comes with it.
The nationwide digital conversion triples broadcasting possibilities; it allows three channels to broadcast on the same amount of spectrum when, previously, only one channel could broadcast. Eventually, analog television translator signals will be completely phased out, but Peterson said that could take awhile, considering the fact that Congress had planned for the digital transition to happen years ago, and it’s taken this long to transpire.