Many households might not receive signal

Days after top lawmakers expressed serious concerns that the impending switch to all-digital television may not go smoothly, a new report states that possibly half of over-the-air dependent households might not receive a picture even if they do everything the Federal Communications Commission advises.

Released Tuesday by media market research firm Centris, report claims that 9.2 million U.S. households “could experience receptivity problems with digital TV signal coverage” when the country goes completely digital on Feb. 17.

Centris estimates that 17 million households are over-the-air dependent, meaning they are not connected to a cable or satellite TV system. Federal estimates put the number near 20 million.

OTA analog sets that are not hooked to a device that will convert digital signals back to analog will not receive any picture. But the Centris study says that in 10 specific markets some TV sets – even if hooked to a converter device – will still not receive a signal because of “receptivity gaps” due to geographic location.

The 10 markets include some of the nation’s largest: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta and Cleveland.

Report follows a previous one Centris released in February describing such gaps as deep valleys or other similar areas where digital signals – not as ubiquitous as analog signals – may not reach. Home owners will likely have to upgrade their antenna in order to receive DTV images.

“We have completed an analysis of the entire country to identify where in each market the receptivity gaps exist and now have exact figures for the number of at-risk households down to individual census block groups,” said Centris exec VP David Klein in a statement. “The statistics suggest that digital TV signal coverage will be significantly more limited than currently anticipated and further reinforce the need for industry and consumer education on this issue.”

Separately, the FCC announced 11 fines on Tuesday totaling more than $6.5 million against retailers and manufacturers for failing to follow certain DTV mandates. One is a requirement that buyers of TV equipment incapable of receiving over-the-air digital signals be informed that the equipment will not work after the DTV transition.

Fined for failing to inform: Sears, Roebuck ($1.1 million); Wal-Mart Stores/Sams’ West ($992,000); Circuit City Stores ($712,000); Fry’s Electronics ($384,000); Target ($296,000); Best Buy ($280,000); CompUSA, Inc. ($168,000).

Other companies were fined for violating restrictions on importation of new analog-only sets or for not ensuring that V-chips will work with changes in the content ratings system.

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