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Rules For The Digital-TV Transition

What sort of help will be provided to households with old, analog-only TVs when analog broadcasts vanish from the airwaves in 2009? The answer to this mysterious aspect of the switch from analog to digital television just got a little clearer.

Earlier today, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced how it will offer discount coupons for the converter boxes older TVs need to tune in over-the-air digital broadcasts. (This coupon offer was required by the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, the bill that set a hard deadline of Feb. 17, 2009 for the digital switchover.)

Contrary to some expectations that only people who actually watched analog off-air broadcasts would be eligible for these coupons, this offer is wide open to anyone. From Jan. 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009, every household in the U.S. will be able to claim two $40 coupons, each good only towards the purchase of a single converter, just by asking the agency by the phone, on the Web, via fax or by mailing in a form.

But once the NTIA has burned through $990 million this way, the requirements will tighten dramatically. The last $510 million worth of coupons will be restricted to households that only watch TV off the air. If you have one TV hooked up to cable and a second plugged into a set of rabbit ears, you'll be out of luck then.

The best summary comes in a PDF download at NTIA's site.

Remember that these converter boxes won't turn an analog set into a high-definition TV. They'll provide the same resolution as analog--so long as reception is strong enough--but without ghosting, snow or the other visual debris of analog reception. These converters can also provide a free on-screen programming guide, although some might omit that feature. Their retail price remains unclear. Although manufacturers hope to bring them to market at $50 or less, the first batch might cost closer to $100 when they arrive late this year or early next year.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 12, 2007; 5:42 PM ET
Categories:  Video  
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