KOMU to go digital in April

Monday, February 9, 2009 | 6:36 p.m. CST; updated 2:29 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This story has been changed to reflect that KMIZ has not yet filed paperwork with the FCC to change its digital switch date.

COLUMBIA — One local TV stations plans to go to digital earlier than the new federally mandated deadline of June 12.

While KMIZ/Channel 17 has not yet set a date to switch to digital, local NBC affiliate KOMU/Channel 8 filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission to change their specific switch date, said Matt Garrett, director of audience development for KOMU.

Randy Wright, general manager for KMIZ/Channel 17, said that the station is still considering an exact transition date.

"We're figuring out a final date," said Wright.  "When we have some finality to the discussion, we will make an announcement."

Garrett said the reason for the April 2 date is economic. The station is currently running an analog signal and a digital signal at the same time on different channels. Garrett explained running both signals is expensive and KOMU could save thousands of dollars by only running one digital signal.

Garrett pointed out that April 2 is a tentative date, however, because he does not want the digital signal to interfere with other analog signals in the region that appear on the same channel and may not change until June 12. Garrett said studies would be necessary to prevent this interference from happening.

Columbia’s CBS affiliate KRCG/Channel 13 plans to continue transmitting both an analog and a digital signal until the June 12 deadline, Ladd Egan, KRCG news director, said.

Egan said although the station would save money, it feels it needs all of the time to let people buy converter boxes.

“We are ready to go; we have been operating in digital for years,” Egan said. “But, we understand that people aren’t ready.”

Egan also said that Columbia and Jefferson City have a high concentration of cable and satellite users. For those users, the digital transition happens automatically.

Phyllis Peters, a Mediacom Cable communications director, said that the FCC’s national data reported that 82 percent of the U.S. viewing public uses satellite or cable. Peters said that Mediacom has gained customers over the last year and expects that number to continue to grow after the June 12 date.

Peter’s said that Mediacom is also offering customers who still don’t have a converter box a free trial of Mediacom’s basic cable package — including local Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates — until June 12.

Garrett approximates the number of people in Columbia and Jefferson City still receiving analog signals to be about 10 percent to 12 percent of the 175,000 households in the region — or between 17,500 and 21,000 households. Garrett said these numbers may not be representative of people without converter boxes because some people have called in and needed help hooking up the box properly.

The availability of government coupons for converter boxes, distributed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is also an issue.  Coupons started becoming scarce as the earlier national deadline of Feb. 17 began approaching. Garrett said people are letting coupons expire, in the 90 day period the NTIA mandates, before using them.

“What is keeping this transition from happening right now is the coupon program ran out of money,” Garrett said. “You had a lot of people who applied for these coupons but let them expire.”

Don Gordon, a Columbia farmer, thinks that the people who are procrastinating are the main reason for the digital transition date being pushed back.

“The ones that are procrastinating just keep putting it off,” he said. “People who don’t have it changed now don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.”

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