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Dawn Villella/AP
Dorothy Delegard receives some instruction from Best Buy employee Todd Tibesar on how
to set up her digital TV converter box.

Digital TV Switchover Imminent Though Millions Remain Unprepared

May 27, 2009 06:30 PM
by Liz Colville
Although Americans were given more time to prepare their analog televisions for digital broadcasting, recent tests and polls show millions still aren’t ready.

DTV Takes Effect June 12

A Nielsen study released at the beginning of May suggested that 3.5 million American households were at that time “still completely unready” for the digital TV switch, which is set to take effect June 12. The numbers were an improvement from data collected two weeks prior, Nielsen said.

But PC Magazine reports that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hotline was flooded with some 55,000 phone calls on May 21, the day the FCC conducted a “soft test” interrupting analog programming to warn viewers that they were not prepared for the digital switch.
The FCC reports on the DTV Web site that 51 percent of calls made to its hotline during the soft test were about the $40 coupon the government is offering viewers to offset the cost of a digital converter box, required for those with analog TV sets. “About 15 percent of people called to express concern about reception in their area, while 10 percent needed instructions to install their digital converter box,” PC Magazine added.

According to the FCC, since May 1, the hotline has received approximately 15,000 calls per day.

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Reference: What you should know about the digital TV conversion

Why digital TV?

Congress passed a bill in 1996 allowing TV stations to broadcast on both a digital and an analog channel. It then set a deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, later extended to June 12, for when stations must stop broadcasting via analog. Many stations have already made the switch to digital-only.

In the days leading up to the initial Feb. 17 deadline, there were concerns that the government didn’t have enough money to offer the $40 coupons. At that time, an estimated six million households weren’t ready, according to findingDulcinea.

The switch is happening in order to free up the airwaves for “public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads),” the DTV Web site explains. The airwaves will also be “auctioned to companies that will be able to provide consumers with more advanced wireless services (such as wireless broadband).”
How to get digital TV

As the DTV Web site explains, if you have an analog TV that receives “free over-the-air television programming (with a roof-top antenna or ‘rabbit ears’ on the TV),” you will need a digital converter box that you can plug into your existing TV set. Those who have TVs with internal digital tuners do not have to buy a converter.

The DTV Web site’s article “Will You Be Affected?” offers more details and explains how to find help buying a digital box, getting a coupon to help you pay for it and installing the box to work with your analog set. The site also has a function that helps you find local assistance with making the switch.

If you have a cable or satellite TV service, the DTV Web site recommends contacting your service provider to get any necessary equipment by the June 12 deadline.

Related Topic: Game for a new TV? Recycle your old one

While it’s not necessary to get rid of your analog (cathode-ray transmission) TV set—the digital converter box will let you keep using it—Popular Mechanics noted in 2008 that the switch will probably entice more people to the electronics store to buy a more sophisticated TV model, such as a high-definition flat-screen. In that case, ditch your old set by recycling it, not sending it to a landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency Web site has information on how to recycle electronics, including TVs.

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