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CB leaders learn about digital TV switch

Digital television will be changing the way viewers watch their favorite programs and Borough President Helen Marshall wants to make sure all of Queens is ready when broadcast signals upgrade next month.

Marshall invited ABC 7 news anchor Bill Ritter and some of his station managers to speak to district managers of Queens’ community boards during the Borough Cabinet meeting Jan. 6 at Borough Hall to explain the ins and outs of the transition.

Even though thousands of city residents are ready to experience the benefits of the transition, Ritter said there are still some viewers who do not understand the change or how to upgrade their televisions.

“We want no viewer left behind,” he said. “Our goal is to get the word out.”

On Feb. 17, TV stations across the nation are scheduled to switch their broadcast signal from analog to digital. The up−to−date broadcasting standards will not only give viewers improved picture and sound quality but also access to more channels such as ABC 7’s 24−hour weather channel.

Viewers with television sets bought after 2006 and those who subscribe to cable and satellite do not have to make any changes, according to WABC President and General Manager Rebecca Campbell. Those non−cable customers with older sets have to buy converter boxes in order to have any TV signal come Feb. 17.

Although the tri−state area is the television market with the highest percentage of viewers who have upgraded in the nation, Campbell said there still are 250,000 viewers in the city who are not ready for the switch.

“The television stations have known about this for years. However, the television manufacturers were not as prepared,” she said.

Campbell said the majority of the unprepared viewers are elderly and the poor and she urged the district managers to get the word out to their community residents to make sure they have converter boxes. Marshall said many Queens residents have told her that they have had problems installing converter boxes because they are not tech−savvy.

“A lot of people need help understanding this,” she said.

Emil Cherian, who works at the Federal Communications Commission’s New York office, said his agency is looking into a program that would hire volunteers within city neighborhoods to help with the transition. President−elect Barack Obama’s transition team asked Congress last week to extend the date for the signal switch to give viewers more time to upgrade their televisions.

For more information on digital television, log onto www.dtv.gov.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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