All posts by SacBee -- Technology

All-digital TV starts today

Converter boxes let analog TV sets pick up digital signals.

Today marks the historic, nationwide transition to all-digital television. Touted as a milestone date in TV history, the day also is likely to bring confusion, with nearly 3 million U.S. households and perhaps 60,000 area homes unprepared for the changeover. Here are the times local TV stations are planning to switch to digital-only broadcasting:

KCRA (Channel 3): 9 a.m.

KTXL (Channel 40): 9 a.m.

KQCA (Channel 58): 9 a.m.

KOVR (Channel 13): Around 5:25 p.m.

CW 31 (Channel 31): Around 6 p.m.

KXTV (Channel 10): 11:59:59 p.m.

The Federal Communications Commission has set up a DTV hotline to assist consumers with all aspects of today’s changeover, including how to hook up converter boxes that convert analog signals to digital. The hotline number is (888) 225-5322. Information also is available at

Federal coupons good for $40 off converter boxes are available through July 31 and can be ordered by calling (888) 388-2009 or visiting

– Mark Glover

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Tips to making switch to digital TV

The nationwide transition from analog to digital TV is set for Friday. Most people – including those with cable or satellite service, a digital receiver or an analog-to-digital converter box – are ready. But some are not, and others will have either poor or no reception after the switch.

Here’s a DTV survival kit:

COUPONS STILL AVAILABLE Households may still apply for federal coupons – good for $40 off the cost of a converter box necessary to convert an analog signal to digital – at or by calling (888) 388-2009. Coupons are available through July 31 and expire within 90 days of mailing.

A QUICK CHECK To find out if your TV is equipped to receive a digital signal – most built since 2004 are – go to Have the manufacturer and model number of your TV ready to plug into the “Is Your TV a DTV” link.

SHOPPING HELP Consumers Union has tested many of the converter boxes being sold nationwide, listing and evaluating them at

PLAN TO SCAN Converter boxes come with fairly simple directions for hookup, and they are relatively easy to use once connected. However, converter box users will need to scan for channels to make sure they’re pulling in all the available stations. Some converter boxes scan automatically, but you can do it by using the scan feature on the converter box menu or with a remote.

CONVERTER BOX WOES Through July 15, AmeriCorps will assist people with the converter box hookup. Call (888) 225-5322.

ARE YOU A GHOST? Man-made and naturally occurring objects can reflect TV signals. This so-called “ghosting” occurs when a TV signal arrives at the receiver via more than one path. Low-lying areas are susceptible, as are households in hilly areas. Ghosting can be countered by antenna positioning. Technology that supersedes traditional line-of-sight signaling also is being further developed, according to the federal government.

OTHER POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS Some households with converter boxes will still struggle to receive a signal, and some may not receive a signal at all. A recommended antenna type does not always provide a good picture, perhaps due to topography or obstacles surrounding a household. Distant, outlying areas may not receive a strong enough signal to provide an adequate picture, because they are many miles from the signal source. Some may have to experiment with directional antennas to hit upon good reception.

HDTV NOT PART OF THE DEAL Your TV’s ability to receive a digital signal does not automatically make it a high-definition TV.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS Call the Federal Communications Commission’s DTV hotline at (888) 225-5322. Local TV stations say they’ll have engineers and other personnel available to help and answer questions when the Friday switch occurs. Here is a link to phone numbers of TV stations throughout Northern California: htm?l=EN&zipCode=95816. – Mark Glover

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AT&T workers seek new pact

Jane Santoni, an AT&T employee, joins other pickets Wednesday at Watt Avenue and El Camino Avenue to protest the lack of a contract.

Jane Santoni, an AT&T employee, joins other pickets Wednesday at Watt Avenue and El Camino Avenue to protest the lack of a contract.

The protesters brought a giant inflatable rat, representing AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

Communications Workers of America officials say employee costs for health care benefits are the chief obstacle in negotiations.

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FCC to provide information on digital TV conversion

Federal Communications Commission representatives will be at Placer County Library branches today and Friday to provide information about converter boxes, antennas, converter box coupons and other issues related to the transition from analog to digital television reception.

FCC representatives will be at the Auburn Branch Library, 350 Nevada St., from 2 to 4 p.m. today and at the Rocklin Branch Library, 5460 Fifth St., from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday.

Over-the-air broadcasts will be in digital signals beginning June 12. More information regarding the digital transition is available at

– Cathy Locke

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U.S. households with cell phones only surpass those with land lines

WASHINGTON – In a high-tech shift accelerated by the recession, the number of U.S. households opting for cell phones only has for the first time surpassed those that just have traditional land lines.

It is the freshest evidence of the growing appeal of wireless phones.

Twenty percent of households had cells only during the last half of 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Wednesday. That was an increase of nearly 3 percentage points over the first half of the year, the largest six-month increase since the government started gathering such data in 2003.

The 20 percent of homes with cell phones only compared with 17 percent with land lines but no cell phones.

“They’re going the way of the disco,” Stacy Frank, 25, said of land-line phones. Frank, who works at a Washington law firm, said she wouldn’t even consider installing one.

“That’s double the cost,” she added. “Why would you have it? You can’t take it with you.”

Six in 10 households have both land lines and cell phones. Even so, industry analysts emphasized the public’s growing love affair with the versatility of cell phones, which can perform functions such as receiving text messages and are also mobile.

“The end game is consumers are paying two bills for the same service,” said John Fletcher, an analyst for the market research firm SNL Kagan, referring to cell and land-line phones. “Which are they going to choose? They’ll choose the one they can take with them in their car.”

Hard-wired customers are dropping the service at a rate of about 10 percent a year, according to Bill Kula, a spokesman for Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless provider.

Better call quality and battery life are making it easier to cut the cord, Kula said, but he doesn’t expect land lines to disappear completely. People who keep their land-line phones say they do it for safety and reliability, Verizon found in a survey last year.

A caller’s location is easier to fix when a 911 call is made from a land line. Also, land-line communication doesn’t go out when the power does or a phone battery dies or a flood of callers swamps a cellular network.

Pollsters, for their part, are concerned about hard-to-reach cell phone users skewing their results. The Gallup Organization decided last year to begin calling cell phone numbers in order to get a more accurate cross-section of Americans in its surveys, spokesman Eric Nielsen said.

“The cell phone-only person is different from the general population,” Nielsen said, and the CDC’s survey bore him out.

Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the CDC and an author of the report, said that people who live in homes that have wireless service only tend to be disproportionately low-income, young, renters and Latino.

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Broadband sales rise, boost SureWest’s profit

Broadband carried SureWest Communications to a 19 percent jump in first-quarter revenue, the Roseville-based company said Wednesday.

Revenue in the first three months of 2009 grew to $60.9 million, compared with $51.3 million in the first quarter of 2008.

Much of the gain came from the broadband sector. Revenue soared 46 percent to $39.2 million from $26.8 million on the strength of what officials called “significant” broadband business performance, including a full three months from its Kansas City operations.

SureWest acquired Kansas City-based Everest Communications in February 2008 for $173 million.

The gain from SureWest’s $9.2 million sale of its wireless towers to Florida-based Global Tower Partners in February boosted the bottom line in the first quarter, increasing net income to $2.5 million from $283,000 posted in the year-previous quarter.

SureWest also saw broadband gains in the Sacramento area, with revenue up 12 percent from the year-previous quarter as more first-time homebuyers ventured back into the real estate market, chief executive officer Steve Oldham said.

The company’s revenue from telecom declined 11 percent, but SureWest said it anticipated the downturn. First-quarter telecom revenue was $21.7 million, compared with the nearly $24.5 million posted in the first quarter of 2008.

Telecom has suffered across the country as more people abandon traditional landline phones.

“Telecom is still very important, but it’s declining rapidly,” said Oldham. He said SureWest is working to combat the decline by upgrading copper systems to fiber, stressing pricing and its Voice over Internet Protocol services.

Shares of SureWest rose 36 cents to $7.01 Wednesday on the Nasdaq market.

– Darrell Smith

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