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Switch to digital TV may force some consumers to get converter

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 7, 2008

They’re doing it again.


Corporations, along with the federal government are messing with our TV.


It’s all in the name of better quality service and more options for consumers. At least, that’s what the feds are telling us. In any case, there’s no alternative to playing along, other than to stop watching TV.


The change is the advent of universal digital TV. Yes, many of us already get digital TV through our cable or satellite providers. But many of us who still have bunny ears or outdoor antennas continue to get a TV signal over the airwaves in a format known as analog.


Analog TV will cease to exist just over a year from now, on Feb. 18, 2009. If you have a TV that accepts only analog signals, you don’t have to throw it away. But you’ll need to buy a box that will convert the incoming signal to analog.


The federal government is offering to help. Last week, the government started issuing coupons worth $40 toward the purchase of a converter box.


Converter boxes should cost $50 to $70, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, but that may not be the case.


The Janesville Gazette contacted several Janesville retailers over the weekend—including some who have been certified by the NTIA as converter-box dealers—and only one had a converter box. A salesman at Best Buy said it runs about $179.


Several other stores said they don’t have the boxes yet but expect to get them in—sometime.


Some hadn’t even heard of the boxes.


Todd Williams, assistant manager at the Janesville Target store, guessed that Target might get the boxes when the electronics lineup is reset, sometime closer to March.


The technical aspects can be complicated, but here are a few tips on understanding the change:


Q: Why is this happening?


A: The Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 requires full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasts and switch to digital after Feb. 17, 2009. The law also authorizes NTIA to create the TV Converter Box Coupon Program.


Q: What’s so hot about digital TV?


A: DTV, as the techno-wonks like to call it, supplies better quality sound and picture. Analog signals will vary, creating fluctuations in color and brightness. DTV will allow stations to broadcast multiple program choices over what used to be just one channel. Converting to DTV is also expected to free up parts of the broadcast spectrum for use by police and fire departments and for advanced wireless services.


Q: How do I know if I need a converter box?


A: If you receive your TV signal through an antenna and your TV is not digitally equipped, then you need one, according to the FCC. If you receive your television via satellite or a cable, you don’t need one.


Q: So if I have cable or satellite, I’m cool?


A: Maybe. The FCC says that cable subscribers may need new DTV equipment to view DTV programming in digital format, and they should ask their cable provider what they will need and when. Satellite subscribers may need new DTV equipment to receive and view high-definition digital programming, and they should ask the satellite company about that.


Q: How do I apply for the $40 coupon?


A: Apply online at www.dtv2009.gov. Or call the 24-hour hot line, 1-888-388-2009 (TTY 1-877-530-2634.) Or, mail a coupon application to: P.O. BOX 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. Or, fax a coupon application to 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632). An application form can be found at www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/DTV_sample_application_121107b.pdf.

Coupons can be requested now but won’t be distributed until after Feb. 17, 2008.


Q: How many coupons can I get?


A: Each household will be able to request up to two coupons. Coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed.


Q: Do I have to wait till next year to see DTV?


A: No, digital television is available now. If you watch over-the-air television today, you should be able to receive all or most of your local stations’ digital signals if you have a DTV receiver.


Q: Where can I learn more about this?


A: Call the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-225-5322 (TTY: 1-888-835-5322) Or try these Web sites: www.dtvtransition.org, www.ntia.doc.gov and www.dtv.gov. That last one includes a countdown clock, showing the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until the conversion date. It’s obnoxious.

Q: What would happen if I stopped watching TV?


A: We can only speculate, but some say that you and your family could choose to become more active, get outdoors more or read more books. You’d have more time to do those things you never seem to get around to doing, such as reading the newspaper.



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