Switch to digital television on its way

Published 10:30 am Monday, December 15, 2008

To the list of New Year’s resolutions many Americans will add: Make the switch.

The question being asked is, “Are you ready for the digital television transition in 2009?”

Federal law requires that all full-power television broadcast stations stop broadcasting in analog format and broadcast only in digital formal after Feb. 17, 2009.

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Broadcast stations in all U.S. markets are currently broadcasting in both analog and digital.

Anyone with an analog television that receives free over-the-air television programming with an outdoor antenna or “rabbit ears” indoor antenna on the television set will either need a digital television (a TV with a built-in digital tuner) or an analog TV connected to a “analog-to-digital converter box,” which converts digital signals for analog signals for viewing on an analog set) in order to watch programming from full-power broadcast stations.

Television viewers have been bombarded with advertisements, public service announcements and infomercial TV shows for the last year warning about the need to make the switch-over.

Now, the Federal Communications Commission is fanning out across the United States to conduct a campaign blitz to share switch-over information.

Ireme Bleiweiss, regional coordinator for the FCC’s DTV Tradition National Outreach Campaign, visited Austin recently.

Bleiweiss met with the media and held a program of her own at the Wal-Mart Super Center in Austin.

Television viewers have three choices: 1) Convert their analog TV with a digital-to-analog converter box; 2) Buy a digital TV; or 3) Subscribe to a paid TV service.

About the latter, the FCC issued this warning: Cable TV companies are not required to transition or switch any of their channels to digital. As far as the second choice to buy a new digital TV, consumers should know: It does not have to be a High Definition TV (HDTV).

The most talked-about choice is buying a converter box, and the FCC is making a $40 coupon available to accommodate such purchases.

With only six weeks to go before the Feb. 17, 2009 switch-over, the FCC suggests three steps to keep analog TVs working: “Apply, Buy, Try” is the name of the FCC informational campaign to encourage use of converter boxes.

The $40 coupons are available on a first come, first served basis to purchase a government-certified converter box.

To apply, go to www.DTV2009.gov or call 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009), mail to P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208 or fax 1-877-DTV-4ME2 (1-877-388-4632).

Next, consumers should use the coupon to buy a converter box. A list of retailers, such as Wal-Mart, will be mailed with the coupon.

The coupons must be used within 90 days of mailing.

When they purchase a converter box, it should be hooked up immediately, according to the FCC, to trouble-shoot how the switch-over will go in February 2009.

The converter box instructions will include a toll-free number to call for assistance.

The FCC will also supply general information about digital reception capabilities by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (voice) or 1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY) or go online to www.DTV.gov.