Technology

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Darryl Bush/AP
Comcast Cable technician Julio Rodriguez, left, explains how a new digital converter cable
box
works after installation.

Despite Fears, First Stage of Switch to Digital TV Relatively Painless

February 12, 2009 04:19 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Hundreds of TV stations reported few problems after ending analog broadcasts at midnight on Tuesday, and the stimulus bill provides more money for converter boxes.

Some Stations Go Ahead With Changeover

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National Association of Broadcasters spokeswoman Shermaze ingram said that no major issues were reported as of midday by the 421 stations, mostly in smaller markets, that made the switch, according to USA Today. "No news is certainly good news in this situation," she said.

Tuesday was the original deadline for TV stations to switch to all-digital TV, or DTV, but Congress recently extended the deadline to June 12 out of concern that a federal program to provide coupons for TV converter boxes had run out of funds. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill, which allocates $650 million to the coupon program.

Stations were given the option to adhere to the original date, with permission from the Federal Communications Commimssion. Some 200 stations also switched over before the Tuesday deadline, with no major problems.

Cities where all major TV networks planned to make the switch early included San Diego, Calif.; Tulsa, Okla.; Charleston, S.C.; Dayton, Ohio; and Lincoln, Neb., in addition to four TV stations in Michigan, reported the Detroit Free Press.

In January, House Republicans had stymied a bill to delay the switchover from analog to digital TV until June, which the Senate had previously passed.

House Democrats had introduced the bill to the floor as a noncontroversial bill, meaning it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. But with Republican opposition the 258-168 vote didn’t meet the required threshold.

The Senate had previously agreed unanimously in a voice vote to delay the switch from analog TV to digital from Feb. 17 to June 12, giving 6 million Americans who aren’t ready four more months to make the switch.

Background: Americans not ready for digital TV

Experts estimate that the number of Americans not yet ready for the switch is approximately 6 million, but during the debate some lawmakers argued that about 20 million poor, elderly and rural-dwelling individuals were not ready for the transition.

Last year, the government was running out of money to subsidize the switch from analog to digital broadcast signals, prompting fears that millions could go without signal in February.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked Congress for an update on the coupon program that was helping people with their conversions. The Department of Commerce said the program was expected to hit its $1.34 billion limit at the beginning of January, Reuters reported.

USA Today reported that the digital converter coupons can take six weeks to arrive once ordered. Up to 70 million homes have televisions that use antennaes, which won’t work without a converter box. Nationwide, there are nearly 300 million televisions in use.

The necessary converter costs between $40 and $90, and the government-issued coupons offset $40 of the cost.

Are you prepared for the federally mandated shutdown of analog broadcasting?

Digital television is supposed to offer viewers clearer pictures, better sound quality and more programming options than analog. 

Related Topic: Prisons concerned about digital TV switchover

Reference: How to recycle your old TV

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