is a 50-year-old technology,” said Tom Derenge of the Federal Communications Commission on a visit to Molokai two weeks ago. “It’s time to make the transition.”
The switch only affects those who use free television, using antennas (rooftop or “rabbit ears”) for TV connections. Those customers with satellite or cable service were automatically switched over to the new digital service.
“If you bought a TV recently, in the past few years,” explained Derenge, “it’s already digital-ready.”
Many places in the U.S. have been using both digital and analog services, said Derenge. People have been able to plug in their converter boxes to see if it works before the actual switch takes place.
But not in Hawaii. Residents of Hawaii didn’t know until Thursday at noon whether the switch would go smoothly. And many customers on Molokai’s East end have been disappointed to find that their TV’s don’t work with the converter box. Derenge had warned on his visit to Molokai before the switch that those living between miles 10 and 20 might experience a weak signal. But the Federal Communications Commission expected no difficulties.
The change is coming because federal laws require the analog airwaves to be freed up for police, fire and emergency communications. “There will be more channels to choose from, as well as better programming quality,” said Derenge.
The state of Hawaii has made the switch to digital service a month before the rest of the country. This is because the transmission station for Maui, currently located on the top of Haleakala, was relocated to Ulupalakua. The Hawaiian petrel, an endangered species of bird, nests on the Haleakala mountaintop in early March, and broadcasters needed to move the transmission equipment before that to avoid disturbing their nesting season. In order to avoid confusion, it was decided that the entire state would make the switch early along with Maui.
The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 22,000 Hawaii homes receive TV over the airwaves. These customers have three options: connect your analog TV to a digital-to-analog converter box, buy a digital TV (with a built-in digital tuner), or subscribe to a paid TV service, such as cable or satellite.
The Federal government is issuing coupons that can be used toward the purchase of a converter box. Each household is eligible to receive up to two coupons, with a value of $40 each. The coupons are only valid for 90 days after issuance.
“Converter boxes cost anywhere from $40 to $70,” explains Derenge. “With the coupons, the boxes cost $10 to $30.”
Derenge acknowledged the difficulty for Molokai residents to obtain a convertor box since there are no on-island stores that supply them.
Demand for the coupons exceeded expectations and there are currently no more to be had as of January 4 because of a lack of funds, says Derenge. But despite the current shortage, he adds, Hawaii has no plans to discontinue the program as of now. Those who order coupons now will be put on a waiting list. Coupons may be purchased online at www.DTV2009.gov or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009.
Those experiencing difficulties in service should call 808-541-2389 or email HawaiiDTVtransition@fcc.gov.