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Lots of Questions About the Digital Transition

Kim Hart

Every time I write about the transition to digital TV, my email inbox gets flooded with questions covering every aspect of the conversion, including ones I had never even thought of. "How do I get a converter box for my TV?", " Will I need a new VCR?", " How do I know if I need a new antenna?"

It's certainly a complex issue, which is why private groups and government agencies are trying to get the word out. There's not much government money available to help fund the educational efforts. The Federal Communications Commission has received about $2.5 million from Congress for education purposes, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is running the converter box coupon program, has about $5 million to let people know what will happen next February. The National Broadcasters Association and National Cable and Telecommunications Association are putting hundreds of millions of dollars toward informing people of the transition.

The transition is happening in order to free up more airwaves for advanced wireless services. Some of those airwaves have been allocated for enhancing public safety agencies' communications capabilities.

A recent survey commissioned by the Association of Public Television Stations showed that more than half of the over-the-air consumers--those with analog TV sets-- who are aware of the digital transition intend to buy a converter box or digital TV before the switch happens. The survey also showed that about 76 percent of Americans are aware the transition is happening next year.

But specific questions about converter boxes still linger.

As I mentioned in the story, residents of some nursing homes and other larger group homes may not be eligible for the coupons because of a current limit of two coupons per household. The NTIA is in the process of changing those eligibility guidelines to solve the problem.

"We've been listening to the public about their needs as it relates to the transition, and this is an example of us acting on the public's response," said Todd Sedmak, NTIA spokesman.

A variety of converter boxes are on shelves now at retail stores like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Circuit City and Radio Shack. I went to a few stores over the weekend and found several boxes in the $60-$80 range, with fancier versions with more features running a bit more expensive. Wal-Mart has one for $50, making it more affordable with a $40 coupon from the NTIA. Other companies, including EchoStar, plan to manufacture converter boxes for even less. EchoStar's box will retail for $40 and will be available this summer.

As of Friday morning, the NTIA has received 8,860,247 requests for converter box coupons. And 4,678,554 coupon applications have already been approved.

I'm working on another story dealing specifically with converter boxes. I'll try to answer the questions many of you have about how they work, how one model is different than another, and how to get one.

If you have some questions about the converter boxes, shoot me an email so I can try to find some answers.

By Kim Hart  |  March 31, 2008; 4:47 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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I read somewhere that if I have an older VCR and DVD player, then I'll need a converter for each in addition to one for the television - is this true?

Posted by: EL | April 1, 2008 10:47 AM

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