Clearing up DTV confusion

February 25, 2008 8:49:38 PM PST
Next year at this time, the government will stop broadcasting its analog airwaves. That means some of you need to take action to avoid shut-off, but viewers have told Action News they're getting mixed signals about how the transition to digital television will affect them.

The only people who need to take action are people who have analog sets and get service using an antenna or rabbit ears. So why all the confusion? Well, some say because cable companies and retailers are trying to make a profit.

Diana Fertik says Comcast told her she needs new converter boxes right now to switch to digital.

"I knew it wasn't right. I felt as if they were trying to sell me something hoping I was naive and didn't know what was going on," she said.

The government is shutting down public analog airwaves on February 17, 2009, but cable and satellite companies have agreed to continue sending analog service to their paying customers until at least 2012.

"They don't have to change anything. They don't have to get a new box from Comcast. They don't have to run out and get one of the digital converter boxes," explained Grant Clauser of E-Gear magazine.

While cable companies regularly move some channels to their higher-cost packages, federal law requires them to provide certain broadcast channels on even their basic packages.

However, Action News has received a number of calls from confused cable customers.

"We feel that confusion may lead many consumers to spend money that they shouldn't have to on equipment that they don't need," said Joel Kelsey of the Consumer Union.

Action News put the Delaware Valley's largest cable provider, Comcast, to the test to see whether its representatives are providing accurate information.

An Action News employee has basic analog service with no box. The first two Comcast representatives told her since she is connected to cable, she's covered, which is true. However, a third representative wrongly tells our tester she needs to upgrade and get a digital box to avoid shutoff.

"You know, I'm getting mixed messages. I'm told that when the digital transition does happen I won't need a box, but you're telling me that I will," she said.

"Clearly, there was confusion. Clearly, this was misinformation," said Jeff Alexander of Comcast Cable.

Comcast says it has an ongoing campaign to educate its customers and its workers.

"You need no additional equipment. You do not need to upgrade to digital," said Alexander. "We certainly regret any misinformation that is out there. We take it very seriously and we look at every incident where that occurs."

Cable companies aren't the only ones who need to educate their employees about the DTV transition. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says television retailers are misleading consumers. The organization sent secret shoppers to 132 electronics stores in 10 states.

"Eighty percent overall were given misinformation," said James Browning of the Public Interest Research Group.

But at least one national retailer we talked to says it is committed to providing the best information to consumers. It is also mandating educational training for its employees and apologizes for any misinformation.

If you have cable or satellite, you do not have to do anything. However, if you do not have cable or satellite, you might have to take some action.

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