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Today's the day that analog TV moves away

2.1 percent of households locally with older TVs still unprepared for Saturday's change-over to digital

Some households in the Bay Area and across the nation will see nothing but a blank screen on their television sets this morning if they have not prepared for the analog-to-digital conversion by Friday night.

As all full-power television stations nationwide switch to all-digital transmission today, Acting FCC Chairman Michael J. Copps issued the following statement:

"Today's historic transition to digital TV is an important step forward in U.S. broadcasting, offering consumers access to more free over-the-air programming as well as higher quality pictures and sound. The transition also frees up valuable airwaves for emergency communications and advanced wireless services."

"At the same time," he added, "I recognize the great challenge that today's switch presents for many consumers. Even though the overwhelming majority of households are DTV-ready, we are fully committed to helping those who have yet to join the digital television age both today and in the days to come."

Anyone who has cable or who has bought a new TV within the past two years shouldn't need to change anything, said Glenn Phillips, Federal Communications Commission DTV coordinator for San Francisco.

However, the estimated 2.1 percent of households with older TVs in the Bay Area that are still unprepared for the change need to have two things: rabbit ears or an antenna, and a digital converter box, Phillips said.

Some consumers may experience problems that have simple solutions, such as adjusting antennas or re-scanning for channels, and FCC Chairman Copps said the agency has 4,000 trained operators standing by on our toll-free helpline, 1-888-CALL-FCC, 24 hours a day, to talk them through those and any other more serious problems they may have.

"My staff and I will be monitoring the transition closely, analyzing the types of calls our helpline is getting, communicating regularly with broadcasters and other key stakeholders, and getting feedback from our FCC staff in the field," Copps said. "We are ready to respond quickly and focus resources wherever they may be needed."

People can sign up for a $40 government coupon for the converter box until July 31. There are many ways to sign up, including through the commission's Web site, http://www.fcc.gov/. Converter boxes usually run from about $50 to about $80 and are available at most mainstream electronic stores.

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