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Congressmen look to resolve expected DTV problems

Two top members of the House Energy and Commerce committee are asking broadcasters and federal agencies how they're preparing for the digital TV switch.

Two congressmen are looking for reassurance that broadcast networks and federal agencies will resolve the lingering problems associated with the digital television transition to take place in February.

Representatives John D. Dingell (D-MI) and Edward Markey (D-MA) on Friday sent separate letters to the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the National Association of Broadcasters, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox.

The letters noted that the FCC's trial conversion in Wilmington, N.C., this September "revealed many problems related to the transition, including consumers who did not know they needed to rescan their boxes to search for new channels after the switch, needed to obtain or adjust antennas to receive digital signals, or were no longer able to receive a station's signal because the station's digital signal contour differs from its analog coverage area."

The letters asked the groups to name by November 14 the steps they plan to take to mitigate those problems.

In both the letters sent to broadcasters (PDF) and the federal agencies (PDF), Dingell and Markey asked what stations will do to let viewers know if they are within the station's analog service area but not its digital service area. One third of all calls received during the test transition in Wilmington related to viewers losing a station's signal because of the difference between the digital and analog service areas, the letters say.

The letters also ask how viewers--including viewers without ready access to the Internet--will know if they need to adjust their antennas, or that they need to rescan their digital-to-analog converter boxes.

Dingell chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Markey chairs the committee's panel on telecommunications and the Internet.

Both Congress and the FCC have previously voiced concerns that the transition will not go smoothly.