Digital Transition Countdown Begins
In 376 days, broadcasters will stop airing programs using analog signals. That means that anyone who does not have a digital television set and still gets over-the-air programming using rabbit-ears antenna, will need to get a special converter box in order to keep receiving TV signals. You won't be affected by the transition if you already subscribe to cable or satellite service, or if you have a digital TV.
The problem is, a lot of consumers don't know the transition is coming and have never heard about these converter boxes. That's why several officials charged with educating the public about the "digital transition," held a press conference this morning at the Best Buy in Tenleytown to show off the converter boxes and get the word out about their availability.
You can request a $40 coupon to help cover the cost of a converter box at www.dtv2009.gov. Each household can request up to two coupons.
U.S Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the department has received requests for more than 4.4 million coupons since they became available last month. Starting on Feb. 17, the one-year mark from the transition, consumers can start purchasing the converter boxes at Best Buy, Radio Shack and Wal-Mart. More retailers are expected to carry the boxes shortly thereafter. Thirty-four different converter boxes have been certified to be sold to consumers.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency within the Commerce Department, is responsible for directing the converter box coupon program. The NTIA, as well as the Federal Communications Commission, have been under pressure to do more to educate the public about the transition, so people still using analog television sets--particularly in elderly, low-income and minority communities--won't be left in the dark a year from now.
Industry officials also have a huge stake in the transition. For cable operators, it presents an opportunity to sell cable service to new customers. Broadcasters can now air more programming with better sound and picture quality, and want to make sure they can still reach viewers. And TV manufacturers see a chance to sell more digital TVs.
All the players say the transition is on track--and it needs to be, considering the FCC is currently auctioning off the analog spectrum being freed by going digital. But with 21 million households still relying on analog signals, and many more with analog TVs in their kitchens, bedrooms and basements, there undoubtedly will be a few people who don't hear the news. And some skeptics are questioning whether NTIA will have enough coupons for everyone who wants one.
It should be an interesting year.
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