Public invited to session on digital TV

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is unclear at publication time whether the ice storm has altered the scheduled event. Call WMUR-TV at 669-9999, Comcast at 1-617-279-7521 or New Hampshire Public TV at 868-4328 to find out.

NASHUA – The end of old-fashioned television signals will be the subject of a “town hall” meeting scheduled for Monday at Nashua High School North.

By Feb. 17, all stations will change their over-the-air signals from analog signals, which has been used since TV was invented, to digital. The transition has already begun; Derry-based Channel 50 made the switch on Dec. 1.

The move will not affect cable or satellite television, but people who get their signal by antennas may have to adapt. No exact figures are available, but by one industry estimate, only about 5 percent of Nashua-area homes depend exclusively on antennas for the TV.

Sets that are not digital-ready will have to have special adaptor boxes in order to see the new signals. The federal government offers $40 coupons to help offset the cost. Antennas do not have to be changed, although they may have to be turned slightly to improve reception.

The session is one of several being hosted by WMUR-TV, New Hampshire Public Television and Comcast. The first was held in Manchester last week.

“We hope that this town hall meeting, in conjunction with our on-air and Web site information, will reach those people who depend on over-the-air viewing and could lose their signal in February,” said WMUR General Manager Jeff Bartlett. “Also, since the digital broadcast transition may be different for viewers depending on where they live in New Hampshire, this format allows us to address viewer questions with very community specific answers.”

The change is required by the federal government partly to free up space on the airwaves.

Digital signals take up much less space than old-fashioned analog signals. The free-up wavelengths are being auctioned off for use by such things as wireless phones, over-the-air broadband Internet and better communication by emergency services.

One exception to the switch is Nashua’s Channel 13. Because it is a small, low-power station, it did not have to make the expensive change to digital transmission. The station has been concerned because not all converter boxes will “pass through” its analog signal after Feb. 17 – which means that some people who get the station now will lose it after the transition.

Similarly, some transmitters that help extend the range of WMUR or public television in more remote parts of the state are also exempt from the switch.

Last week, many stations in the Boston television market – although not stations in New Hampshire – conducted a simulated shutdown of their analog signals. New Hampshire viewers watching those stations by an over-the-air antenna would have seen a graphic alerting them that they are not ready for the digital transition.

To apply for the two $40 coupons available from the federal government for TV converters, call 1-888-DTV-2009.