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FCC Engineers To Take Closer Look At DTV Problem Areas

The FCC is likely to send out engineers to do "a more thorough examination" of continuing DTV reception issues in some top markets, including the top two.

According to a source, it will likely dispatch those FCC engineers to do more extensive testing in those markets-including New York and Chicago-where there were reception issues, particularly with VHF stations. "The idea is to figure out what the basic issues are. It is different in each market," said a source with knowledge of the deployments.

The FCC continues to work with problems at between two- and three-dozen stations, but the source says that in three-fourths of the cases, the issues were resolved on the consumer end by re-scanning TV sets or converter boxes, resetting antennas or getting new ones.

In a number of big city markets, stations moving from temporary UHF DTV channel assignments to permanent VHF channels were having trouble reaching some downtown viewers.

One thing the engineers may be looking for in the balance of cases in which the problem wasn't clear is whether there has been an increased "noise" floor that could account for some of the disruption. For example, in big cities like Chicago and New York, is the noise floor higher due to the number of computers or wireless phones, the source said.

There are certainly exponentially more devices operating in the RF environment than when the FCC began planning for the DTV switch almost two decades ago. But engineers note that the overall noise environment should actually be lower than before the switch since high-powered stations are no longer broadcasting two signals.

Some engineers suggested that it was that lowered noise floor as stations turned off their analog signals on June 12 that led to freakish reception phenomena throughout that day, such as a New Orleans TV station still broadcasting in analog, Belo's WWL, being picked up in Canada.

According to the source, the number of calls to the FCC's DTV call center has dropped to about 7,000 per day. The FCC has an in-house contract for extra operators-it has about 400 standing by at the moment-to man and woman its general consumer help line through September.

Glen Dickson contributed reporting for this article.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.