AIRWAVES — Broadcast television viewers all over Santa Monica — and the nation for that matter — woke up today to find that their favorite channels have gone blue.
No morning shows, no news, no cartoons, no infomercials; just a blue screen.
This development — advertised for weeks — is thanks to the conversion to digital television, a new and improved bandwidth that will give TV viewers improved picture quality and more options in the years to come but will inconvenience those who have yet to purchase a converter box.
The Federal Communications Commission has been heavily promoting the conversion since an extension was granted by Congress in May to give viewers more time to order a $40 coupon that goes toward the purchase of a converter box.
Bart Forbes, public affairs specialist for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a bureau within the Department of Commerce, said that 2.75 million coupons have been requested by Los Angeles County residents as of June. Of those, 1.8 million have been redeemed. The coupons are good for 30 days from the time the coupon was received.
Ratings giant Nielsen’s estimates that 250,000 households in the Los Angeles area are unprepared for the switch. To offset that, FCC acting Chairman Michael J. Copps has reached out to area residents informing them that coupons will be available until July 31 when the program ends. After that date viewers will have to pay full price for a converter box unless Congress authorizes another extension, something that President Barack Obama has said he would not approve.
“We’re down to the final stretch and we hope all Angelenos, and Americans, are ready for the DTV transition,” Copps said. “We don’t want anyone to be left without important news and information that affects their everyday lives.”
The FCC has established a toll-free telephone line for residents who have yet to order a coupon. The number is (888) CALL-FCC.
The demand for converter boxes locally has wiped out Video and Audio Center’s entire stock.
Store manager Jason Love said that demand has been high in recent weeks at the Wilshire Boulevard store as the deadline loomed. He said that his store has been selling 20 to 50 boxes a week. Of those sales, he said that 99 percent of those coming in are bearing coupons.
“It’s been kind of steady,” Love said of the stream of customers. “The first deadline people were really going after them.”
He said that a new delivery is expected in the coming days and expects those to sell out as well.
The FCC’s Copps was recently in town to stress the importance of the switch. His appearance is a product of the fact that the region is one of the least prepared major markets in the nation. The 250,000 households unprepared is among 3.1 million nationally who are not equipped for the change.
FCC officials say that the disparity may have something to do with the large population of economically disadvantaged households, primarily those of minorities and younger adults.
Hoping to ease the burden this transition has caused, the FCC has partnered with local nonprofit groups to reach out to those in need. The National Association for Hispanic Elderly is one such group. It is offering phone support at (626) 564-1988. The Los Angeles Urban League has also been enlisted. It has offered workshops for the past couple of weeks and will continue the program into the near future.
“The message is for folks who are tired of hearing this message to talk to their friends, neighbors and family members to make sure they are prepared,” Forbes said.