TAMPA — More than 163,000 households in the Tampa Bay area do not have cable or satellite TV service, or just under 10 percent. For the state of Florida, it's 650,000 households.
That means thousands of viewers may lose TV service on Feb. 17, when broadcasters shift to digital transmissions. On that day, any TV set that depends on analog signals collected by typical rooftop or "rabbit ear" antennae won't get a picture.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps fears the government hasn't done enough to warn viewers the switch is coming — now just 96 days away.
Copps is in the Tampa Bay area this week to spread the word.
"People just don't understand the challenge ahead," Copps said at a meeting of Hispanic leaders at the Columbia restaurant in Ybor City Wednesday. "It's going to take a community to make the DTV transition work."
Copps also will appear at a town hall meeting today in St. Petersburg. He has spent the past two days meeting with area officials and organizers.
And people most affected may be least likely to get the message: the poor, elderly, non-English speakers and rural residents.
Copps ticked off other problems:
• Citizens can request up to two $40 coupons from the government to pay for converter boxes allowing analog TV sets to receive digital signals (the converters cost between $39.99 to $80). But it takes time to receive the coupons, and the commissioner fears the government may run out of funding if demand grows too high.
• Even if you have a digital converter, sometimes digital transmissions don't travel as far as analog signals or are sent from different transmission towers, affecting reception.
• People who have cable or satellite service still may have TV sets that receive analog broadcasts in other rooms. If those analog TV sets are not connected to cable, satellite or a converter, they will not work after Feb. 17.