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Reaction to Wilmington DTV Switch

The early analog shutoff in Wilmington, N.C., was drawing mixed reaction from various quarters Tuesday, with one civil-rights group seeing potential problems while the secretary of commerce pronounced it a success.

In a statement, Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, pointed to early reports showing that "many residents were still not prepared for the transition" and pointed out that "the financial and human resources spent in the Wilmington area to best prepare its residents for the pilot transition will not be replicated in every vulnerable community."

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez -- whose telecommunications-policy arm, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is overseeing the digital-TV-to-analog converter-box subsidy -- saw it somewhat differently.

"The success of the digital switch in Wilmington shows that word is getting out and that combined private-public partnerships can effectively work," Gutierrez said in a statement Tuesday.

But he also pressed viewers to be more proactive, adding, "Now, more than ever, it is crucial that people act to ensure that they are ready, whether that is ordering a coupon and purchasing a converter box, subscribing to cable or satellite or purchasing a digital television."

The NTIA put an even finer point on it Tuesday. "Viewers of over-the-air broadcasts should recognize that it will take four weeks from when they apply for coupons to receive them, purchase their box and install it," NTIA spokesman Todd Sedmak said.

While Wilmington made the switch Sept. 8, the rest of the country has until Feb. 17, 2009.