It’s just as FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned us a year ago: The digital transition is going to be very, very confusing for consumers, and the government isn’t geared up enough to help.

While 90 percent of the nation is aware of the transition, 25 percent mistakenly believe that one must subscribe to cable or satellite after February, according to surveys conducted by the Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. And 41 percent think that every TV in a house must have a new converter box, even those that are already connected to cable or satellite.

According to the Nielsen Co., 6.8 percent of the nation’s TV households were not ready for the digital transition as of the beginning of December. The figure in November was 7.4 percent. The number of people unready appears low, but add in another 10 percent in a category Nielsen calls “partially unready,” and the picture is not quite so encouraging.

People in that latter category may have at least one digital-ready TV, but other TVs in the home aren’t. The number was 10.3 percent in November.

Ten percent of all TV households translates to well over 10 million homes.

There is potential that the number of consumers who might get cut off from terrestrial service may be worse than that, however. Even consumers who are presumably ready for the transition may find themselves cut off.

There has been concern from the beginning that there has not been enough real-world testing of digital signal coverage; digital signals are subject to abrupt loss in the face of interference. It’s possible that HD terrestrial signals might not make it over hills, or even into relatively shallow hollows in terrain.

Chico and Redding in California may demonstrate exactly how well or poorly things might go on Feb. 17. Three of four stations in that northern Californian market were set to switch to all-digital today.

Chico/Redding is one of the first markets that might demonstrate the limitations of HD signal coverage. Unlike the country’s digital transition test bed, Wilmington N.C., where the broadcast area is largely flat, Chico and Redding are in a valley surrounded by mountains.

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