With less than 160 days until the nationwide digital TV transition in February, the proverbial switch was flipped in Wilmington, NC, this past Monday at noon.

The rhetoric and symbolism were abundant: "First in flight, and now first in digital," proclaimed Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, as he joined FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at a giant, symbolic light switch. But more important, by the end of the day, the test market was being hailed as a tentative success. At that point, only a few calls had come in to TV stations, but they were from viewers who needed to simply adjust their antennas or scan channels.

"The fact that most consumers were aware this was coming is a major achievement. It sets the bar high for the rest of the country," said John Taylor, vice president public affairs and communications, LG Electronics USA. Taylor has worked closely with the DTV Transition Coalition as his company was one of eight founding members. Around the Nation While eyes were focused on Wilmington this week, the march toward the DTV transition continued elsewhere as the Feb. 17 deadline approaches. The rest of the country won’t have the dedicated attention Wilmington had (including FCC staffers moving in four months prior to the switch). However, the industry is working feverishly to raise consumer awareness.

To date, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has received requests for 26 million coupons to alleviate consumer cost for digital-to-analog converter boxes.

Already, 10 million coupons have been used to buy these boxes, a level of sales comparable to what Apple hopes to achieve with its iPhone. "It’s a lot more than what people expected," said Todd Sedmak, NTIA communications director. Around 29,000 retailers have been authorized to sell the boxes. Put in perspective, McDonald’s only has 14,000 retail stores in the United States, Sedmak added. Cable readies On the other side of the coin, of the requested coupons, NTIA said 7.8 million have expired, perhaps illustrating, in part, that buying a converter box isn’t the only solution available to those affected by the transition.

Cable companies are readying themselves for more subscribers. According to the Associated Press, Comcast President Steve Burke, speaking at Merrill Lynch Media’s Fall Conference earlier this week, estimated his company could acquire 2 million to 3 million new subscribers as a result of the transition.

Meanwhile, Time Warner COO Landel Hobbs told the same crowd that his company already has experienced related subscriber growth, which he called "steady" as opposed to "explosive," the AP reported.

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at http://www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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