NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2008
Straight Talk on Switch to Digital TV
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)

https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx - Online $40 Coupon Application
https://www.dtv2009.gov/docs/Coupon_Program_App_en.pdf - Downloadable Coupon
http://www.digitaltips.org - Help in connecting converter boxes and other electronics
http://content.ce.org/dtv/converterQSG.pdf - Converter “Quick Start Guide”

I have a small battery operated black & white TV that has served me well during blackouts, hurricanes, ice storms, and other events when we were without power. I also have several small battery powered radios that have a TV band, which have allowed me to listen to broadcast TV when the power is out. In the car, we sometimes listen to the audio of channel 6 on the FM radio at 87.7 MHz. Countless people in the area still choose to receive free local television service over the air using the ubiquitous rabbit ears, or a roof mounted antenna. Starting at midnight, February 17, 2009, all of these will cease to function as they presently do as all full power television stations in the United States must cease their current analog TV transmissions, and switch to all digital broadcasting. Low power TV stations will be phasing in digital service, but likely at a later date. Those of us who currently receive over the air local TV will be unable to receive the new digital broadcasts unless we purchase a digital-to-analog converter box, purchase a TV with a digital tuner, or subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service. Without exercising one of those three choices, we will be without television service in a year. I will be personally affected because my battery TV is analog, and all of the converter boxes I have looked at require a power connection, and will not run on batteries. My radios will no longer pick up the audio broadcasts from the television stations, as they will no longer be broadcast in analog.

Congress and the FCC have required television broadcasters to transition to a digital signal to both provide additional benefits to consumers, but to also free up the radio spectrum to provide for additional emergency frequencies. These frequencies will be used by police and fire departments, with the balance of the spectrum thus freed to be auctioned off by the FCC for other wireless services, with the proceeds going to the federal government. Digital TV will provide a clearer picture for the consumer and more programming options to the TV stations, while freeing up valuable bandwidth.

While they will not (presently) work on batteries for emergency use, or convert the digital to analog signal for radios, the first of the digital to analog converters are now on the market at almost all electronics retailers, discounters, and big box stores. These converters allow current owners of television sets that are analog to receive the digital signals, and view TV on their analog TV sets. Many owners of recently purchased TV sets may not need the converter box, as most TVs produced over the past few years also incorporate a digital tuner. Current cable or satellite subscribers will not need a third party converter to continue to receive television as the cable or satellite system should handle the conversion.

A quick review of the websites of several local stores shows that the converters to convert digital to analog signals are already available, and priced from under $50 to about $70. In order to ease the financial burden that may occur to those purchasing converter boxes for older analog TVs, congress created the “TV Converter Box Coupon Program” which allows households to get for free, up to two $40 coupons which can be applied towards the purchase price of up to two converters (limit 1 coupon per box). Since at least one local big box store I found has the eligible converter boxes in stock for less than $50, that would result in an after coupon net cost (less taxes) of under $10 per box. It should be noted that coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed, so they must be utilized in a timely manner.

Applications for the coupon are currently available online, and may be either filled out online at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx, or downloaded and printed from www.dtv2009.gov/docs/Coupon_Program_App_en.pdf ; printed applications can be mailed to PO Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000 . Printed applications that have been completed can be faxed to 1-877-DTV-4ME2. While the applications are available online, they cannot be printed online and will not be available from retailers. The $40 coupons look like the common plastic gift card, and are used in the same way. The coupon cards are non-transferable, and are encoded to be used only for the purchase of an eligible converter box. Coupon cards will be mailed to eligible applicants in the order received. Applications can also be made over the phone to 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009). Hearing-impaired consumers can apply via TTY service by calling 1-877-530-2634. Applications and instructions are also available in Spanish, French, Russian, Tagalog (Philippine), Vietnamese, and Chinese (on my browser the Chinese link looks like “??????”, but the PDF files are clearly in Chinese). The coupon program ends on March 31, 2009. The converter boxes are supposed to be easy to install, and will easily plug into the TV set. The existing TV antenna connects to the converter box, and the converter box is connected to the TV (and a power source). There is an online “Quick Start Guide” available at http://www.digitaltips.org .

Some analog TV users may not need a converter box, as many TVs manufactured since 2004 have a digital tuner installed. Users should look in their owner’s manual, or manufacturer’s website to see if it is already digital compatible. Users may also determine digital compatibility by visual inspection, and look for an input (probably on the back of the set) that is labeled as “Digital Input” or “ATSC”, which is the digital format. Some of the newer TVs labeled as “HD-Ready” or “HDTV Monitor” may require either a cable or satellite connection with a box supplied by the TV provider, or a special converter box.

Remember that this technological switch will only impact TV viewers who get their TV over the air by antenna, and not satellite and cable users. Also be advised that many newer TVs, mostly manufactured since 2004, already have a digital tuner and will not require a converter box to view digital TV over the air.

Click here to return to top