Analog vs. digital? For much of the rez, it may not matter
By Jan-Mikael Patterson
WINDOW ROCK, June 11, 2009
The deadline for U.S. television broadcasters to go digital is Saturday, June 13, but many Navajos who now get their TV signal from a roof or rabbit ears antenna may still get reception after that, despite all the talk of converter boxes.
And those that have invested in a box, which converts the old-fashioned analog signal to a digital one, may find they cannot pick anything up. That's because even if they got a digital converter box, digital signals will not be broadcast over most of the Navajo Nation.
And areas served by TV translator towers - including much of Dinétah - will still get the old-fashioned analog signals because translators are not due for transition to digital until 2012.
Local satellite installer T.J. Bitsie, who is employed with World Link in Albuquerque, came to the Navajo Times recently in hopes of reaching reservation residents before they spend money on a digital television, or DTV, converter box.
Bitsie, who installs satellite dishes for DirecTV and Dish Network, has come across families in rural areas that bought a converter box and additional equipment only to find that they have no signal.
Digital TV signals offer a clearer picture and better reception, but they don't go as far geographically, he said.
Before spending money on a converter box, determine whether there will be DTV signals in your area, he advises.
Where should you go to find out the situation in your particular area? The Navajo Times contacted the Navajo Nation's Department of Telecommunications and Utilities, and was told by the receptionist that the office does not have any information on the analog-to-digital switch.
The Federal Communications Commission has posted interactive maps on its Web site (www.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/) that enable people to see what digital signals will be available in their particular setting.
In addition, several TV stations broadcasting from Albuquerque and Phoenix post information on their Web sites about how areas served by translators will be affected.
In New Mexico, digital signals generated in Albuquerque reach a 60-mile radius from the city and barely reach the northeast portion of McKinley County and southeast corner of San Juan County.
Places like Shiprock, Hogback, Kirtland and Farmington are receiving some signals from Farmington but according to the DTV Web site, they are of moderate or weak strength.
The Arizona side of Dinétah can receive some digital signals but in most places they are moderate to weak. The signals come from translators for Phoenix stations for the most part, although Kayenta can pick up KOBF out of Farmington. However, along Interstate 40 between Winslow, Ariz., to and Thoreau, N.M., there are no digital signals.
In the Utah portion of the reservation, the maps indicate no DTV signal.
Bitsie has relatives from Tohatchi, N.M., who purchased a converter box thinking they would receive the signal automatically but got no reception.
"They spent a pretty penny and don't have anything to show for it," he said. "My aunt is out $100. People need to be aware that for the reservation, there may not be a signal."
Even Gallup is not within range of a DTV signal, according to the FCC map.
However, analog signals are likely to continue in many parts of the reservation because they come from translators, towers that bounce TV signals around rural areas. And translators, CBS affiliate KPHO in Phoenix notes on its Web site, are not required to go digital for several more years.
KOAT, the ABC affiliate in Albuquerque, said on its Web site that it will broadcast a digital signal that reaches a small radius around Farmington, and for areas outside of that it says:
"You don't need to do anything right now. Your area will continue to be served, like it is now, by KOAT 7's analog signal. The government has not yet decided when television stations must provide a digital signal to your area. Action 7 News and KOAT.com will let you know when our signal will change. The change is not likely to happen for several more years."
KNME, the PBS affiliate in Albuquerque, shows a map on its Web site that also indicates much of the territory between Gallup and Shiprock will not go digital until 2012.
KRQE, the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, states on its Web site that a portion of customers that now get its sister station, KASA Fox on channel 2, or see KREZ on channel 6, will not be able to get these stations after the switch to digital. This is because they will also switch from VHF to UHF, which doesn't carry as far. In each case, most customers will still be able to get the new digital signals, however, provided they have a converter box or have a digital TV.
Telephone calls made to KOB, KOAT and KRQE were referred to the Federal Communications Commission, which did not return messages as of press time Wednesday. Neither did the Navajo Nation's Telecommunications Commission.
The DTV.org Web site shows that 42 percent of U.S. television stations, or 756 stations, already have made the transition to digital broadcasting. That leaves 1,030 left to go.
Information: www.dtv.org or www.fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps/.