The Analog Shutdown, for Better or for Worse Print
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Article Index
The Analog Shutdown, for Better or for Worse
- - The Way Things Look Today
- - How Things Look Post-Transition
- - Analog Today vs. Post-Transition
- - Conclusions

How Things Look Post-Transition

Graph of Channel Availability Post-Transition

In the post- February 17, 2009 simulations, we see all the trends that we were expecting to see.  The number of analog channels drops significantly and the number of digital channels increases slightly.  The duplication of channels no longer exists, so the combined analog plus digital channel count is back down to a level that seems more "normal".

The anticipated improvements in digital coverage are a result of

  • All digital transmitters moving back to their primary facility and broadcasting at full power.
  • A few stations operating in analog-only mode prior to the deadline will be "flash cutting" to their digital transmitter.
  • A lot of the spectrum gets freed up, reducing the level of interference in some spots.

We also notice that there are still a large number of analog broadcasts lingering in some pockets.  Surprisingly, a few people will still be receiving over a dozen analog stations (the very long tail at the bottom of the analog curve).  This turns out to be caused by the large number of smaller transmitters that are not being included in this round of transmitter conversions.

There is a small percentage of the population that get all their OTA television with the help of translator and booster stations.  These communities are usually in sheltered valleys or corridors that would get no signal at all without the help of these extra transmitters.  Since none of these transmitters have been included in the FCC's list of digital conversions scheduled for next year, they all continue to show up as analog transmitters after the deadline.

The FCC has not taken a stance on whether or not these transmitters will be required to make the switch to digital or when, but it would seem natural for all of them to make the switch, eventually.  Translator and booster stations are designed to take broadcasts from the big cities and relay them into their respective niche markets.  You would expect them to do exactly the same thing when it comes to digital broadcasts.  Unfortunately for us, there aren't enough details about "if", "when", or "how" these changes might take place.  For now, all we can do is analyze the analog records on file and hope that most of them will get a one-for-one digital replacement someday.

We'll take a look at before-and-after comparisons next, but first, here are some stats from the post-transition analysis.

 Post-Transition OTA   Analog   Digital 
 Total market penetration      ---      98.4% 
 Average number of channels
 available per household
    4.5      13.4 
 Average number of analog+digital
 channels available per household
 Highest channel count seen at most
 favorable locations
     25        33  
 Highest analog+digital channel count
 seen at most favorable locations
 Approximate number of people
 unable to receive any channels
     ---     4.5 mil 
 Approximate number of people unable
 to receive channels of either type 
          2.7 mil       

As expected, the analog channel availability has plummeted.  The few remaining analog broadcasts are mostly Class A and low-power operators such as local educational institutions (e.g., high school or college), religious, political, local communities, and other similar entities.  To a lesser degree, some translator and booster stations are also included in this statistic as per the comments above.

The digital market reach has only climbed slightly and the average number of available channels has only increased by about 1 channel.  This does not seem like the dramatic increase we were hoping for, but we'll take a closer look at this a little later.

As a side note, there are some stories floating around suggesting that millions of people who rely on OTA might be left "in the dark" after the analog shutdown.  From what we can tell, there is some truth this claim, but the number of people being affected is probably much smaller than initially reported.  If we look at our current OTA availability, roughly 2.7 million people (about 1%) do not receive any analog channels.  If we compare that to the 4.5 million people (about 1.6%) that do not receive any digital channels after the analog shutdown, we see a definite rise in the number of people left without OTA service.  However, these numbers include all of the population regardless of whether they use cable, satellite, fiber, or OTA.  If we assume that the FCC estimates are correct, only about 14% of the population relies exlusively on OTA television.  As a very rough approximation, we could scale the 4.5 million or 2.5 million numbers by 0.14 to estimate the number of people who really need OTA, but can't get it.  By these calculations, it would seem the actual number of people being left "in the dark" is closer to something in the 350k to 630k range.  Some people are "in the dark" already with analog OTA, so the number of additional people being left "in the dark" by digital OTA does not seem to be that high.


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