Rural TV service going digital

The Alaska Rural Communication Service, which provides free TV programming in much of rural Alaska, is switching its stations from analog to digital in the coming months.

The Federal Communications Commission started requiring stations to switch to digital in 2009, but Alaska is one of the last places to get around to it.

Steve Hamlin is the technical manager for Alaska Public Broadcasting, Inc. When ARCS stations make the switch, he says viewers will need either a digital TV or a “set top box converter” for their analog set.

“That is a digital television receiver that has outputs that you then hook up to your television, similar to the way you would have hooked up a VHS machine in years past,” Hamlin explained. “It would allow people to keep their older analog TV set and still be able to use it to watch the newer digital signal.”

Some people may have a converter box tucked away from back in 2009 when the government issued coupons for them. If not, Hamlin says, converters can be purchased for $35 to $50 on Amazon or eBay.

Once ARCS goes digital, Hamlin says viewers will notice not only an improvement in sound and video quality, they’ll also have more channels to choose from.

“Right now, we’re pushing four channels of television through the ARCS digital trans system that are out there,” said Hamlin. “Those channels are the ARCS variety channel, which people who watch ARCS are already used to; the statewide Public Broadcasting Service channel called Alaska Public Television; University of Alaska television; and the fourth channel is 360 North, which comes up from KTOO in Juneau, which features a lot of Alaska programming and also features the Alaska Legislature in action.”

Hamlin says ARCS will convert to digital in 185 communities, many in Western Alaska, over the next nine months.

Aleknagik is set to go digital on Nov. 1. Then within the next three months, stations will switch in 30 more communities, including Chignik Lake, Igiugig, King Cove, Kokhanok and Nondalton.

The Dillingham ARCS station will switch over later on.


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