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Digital Transition Countdown Begins

Kim Hart

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 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.

By Kim Hart  |  February 7, 2008; 4:43 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Well written article, thanks for the information. Although I have a digital T.V. and Cable hookup, it is still good information to have, and to use to let people know about the issue that may not already be informed.
All the best,
Dr. Cosmo

Posted by: Dr. Cosmo | February 7, 2008 8:35 PM


IF YOU HAVE CABLE - No New TV, No Converter. All Is Well In The World.

IF YOU HAVE SATALITE - No New TV, No Converter. Ignore What The Salesman Tells You, Best Buy Has To Make Goals, The Rest Work On Commission. REMEMBER... All is Well In The World.

IF YOU HAVE A ROOFTOP ANTENNA/RABBIT EARS - All 10 of you online right now... with your 486 or pentium computers. You Need A Converter Box For Your B/W TV.


If you have antenna signal (NOT CABLE/SAT) and are online post here

Because everyone is fliping out over a small change.

Oh and by the way...



Analog cable is perfect even if you only get the basic cable package... REMEMBER... All is Well In The World.

Posted by: JRY | February 7, 2008 10:37 PM

Why is the government legislating this? Why am I being forced to buy a new TV if not even the black and white to color transition forced anyone to buy new?

People who don't have sattelite or cable CANT AFFORD a digital TV.

I will buy a converter box but I do so under protest. I did plan on buying digital eventually but there are a lot of elderly who will be left in the dark next year.

Posted by: James | February 7, 2008 10:38 PM

I've seen many commercials/service announcements regarding the upcoming change and I pay attention to them since it will effect me (me thinks). I'm still waiting to see how much these coverter majiggers will cost and how fast they'll run out...atleast I'll have my internet :)

Posted by: Lisa | February 7, 2008 10:50 PM

The point of the coupon is to negate the cost of the new converter box you need. In the end there should be little out of pocket expense. You do not need a new TV no matter how old it is.

Posted by: Eric | February 7, 2008 10:51 PM

The converters have been price pointed between $100-$150.00 so a $40.00 coupon is a drop in the bucket. Converter Box will function like a cable box for OTA (over-the-air) Broadcast, i.e. - not cable and not satalite. These Boxes will tune the new ATSC (replacing the former NTSC) format for broadcast. At no point will you need a new TV.

To make one more point clear...

A digital Signal is NOT High Definition broadcast.

***Broadcasters (NBC,ABC,PBS,CBS) and most cable networks can produce 7 stations for the price and bandwidth of 1 HD channel.

digital will only effect the way it is received not what is received.

Posted by: JRY | February 7, 2008 11:27 PM

How about analog signals over cable? i.e. TVs that are connected to cable but don't use a cable box. These would be "cable ready" tuners that are receiving an analog signal.

Would it be up to the cable stations to continue feeding the analog signal?

Posted by: jl | February 8, 2008 12:22 AM

Will Mexican and Canadian stations also convert, or can I move to a border state?

Posted by: Gill Avila | February 8, 2008 3:15 AM

You're missing one option here. In our household, we get news and weather over broadband. If we come across a good enough show to watch, we might as well get it on DVD. The writers strike has merely accelerated the downward spiral in the quality of TV shows. Rather than shell out the money for the converter we'll be pulling the antenna wire and routing our money to more useful purposes.

Posted by: Paul | February 8, 2008 5:07 AM

I feel sorry for you, you are not being told the full story. We have already gone down this road in Australia and there is a large section of the community that now cannot receive free to air broadcast. Put simply, digital is either on or off. With analogue in a bad area you will still get a picture, might be a bit ghosted or snowy but it still works. If your digital signal (line of sight only) is a bit off you wont get anything.

Posted by: brian | February 8, 2008 7:48 AM

I still use rabbit ears. TV, in general, sucks out loud. Why would I actually pay money in order to keep watching the crap that's on TV? For the most part TV is mindless noise. I can my news off the internet.

Posted by: cletus | February 8, 2008 8:26 AM

I don't have a 486 or Pentium. I have a pretty good gaming system and a web/email server. I also don't have cable or satellite. I refuse to pay the outrageous prices that they now a charging for analog quality service.

It costs me $60 for a OTA HD antenna that will pick up about 15 channels within 50 miles of my house. All in HD. Practically everything worth watching is on free channels anyways.

So, I guess that makes me one of the 10 people who don't have cable.

Posted by: Jess | February 8, 2008 8:37 AM

I, too, am another of the 10 with an antenna. Trees mean no satellite dish. No local DSL. Local cable never offered service. I will be getting a couple of converters (and never had a 486 loser).

Posted by: Don Juan | February 8, 2008 11:07 AM

Consumer Reports and have a great information site on DTV.

And they set up a way to share your experience with the transition to digital television.

Consumer Reports site with all the info

Posted by: Francisco | February 8, 2008 11:09 AM

James - nobody is forcing you get a new TV.

jl - as of now, cable companies still have to provide analog signal over cable if they were doing so before - i.e, cable box-less cable.

Posted by: Aaron | February 8, 2008 11:47 AM

WHY has not a single article ever referred to the amount of portible TV's that are S.O.L. because of this. Think of all the handleheld 3 inch TV's sold over the past 20 years as well as all the TV's in motorhomes in that same time period.

Posted by: Zak | February 8, 2008 12:23 PM

I wish someone would clarify for me how this will impact my analog VCR. I have been told I will no longer be able to use it to do timer recordings on multiple stations or to watch one station while recording on another.

Posted by: Josh | February 10, 2008 5:24 PM

This will make life after a hurricane even less pleasant. Satellite doesn't work well in that environment. I charge a car battery off my generator during daytime and run a portable and a CF bulb off the battery while the generator is off overnight. A battery may not drive the bulb, portable and a converter. Price of progress, I suppose.

I'm hoping digital portables will become resonable eventually. We'll probably need a stronger dollar for that though.

Posted by: Andrew | February 11, 2008 4:12 PM

For the person who asked about having cable service, but no cable box (just having the coaxial cable plugged into the tv), the cable companies are required to keep providing an analog signal, but only until 2012. At that point it's at their discretion.

Posted by: Mark | February 17, 2008 11:45 PM

You can get your converter on the web at for $21.99 + the govt coupon. I receive more stations than before with better picture quality.

Posted by: tsemmes | March 22, 2008 9:36 PM

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