Chicago (IL) – On February 17, 2009, the televisions for some will potentially go blank if Congress does not intervene. On midnight, television broadcasters all over the United States will no longer be broadcasting in analog, and will instead be converting to a digital signal. This means individuals who own analog television sets and receive their signals over the air will not be functional without a special converter box – and most of those are at or below the median income level.
Viewing television digitally give a clearer image and crisper sound. Digital frequencies operate utilizing less bandwidth thus allowing broadcasters to offer multiple channels.
The switch from analog to digital signal is a huge event in the history of broadcasting, as the US will be joining several European countries which have already made the switch to digital television.
The Government Accountability Office has estimated almost 15% of American households only have televisions that receive analog signal. The Nielsen company estimates that 6.8% of the population is not at all ready for the switch – meaning that they will be left in the dark on February 17th with only snow where their channels used to be.
In November, Consumers Union reported the results of a poll which found that even though the government is making attempts to notify and explain the switch to consumers, 7 percent of the population was not aware of what steps they needed to take to prevent loss of signal.
Mediamark, an audience research firm, has reported that the median household income of adults that currently utilize only over-the-air television- is $33,879 (which is around half of the income level compared to those adults utilizing cable and satellite television). All of the individuals who have not been educated to the switch fall into this income bracket and below.
The United States has not spent as much money notifying consumers of the switch as other countries such as Great Britain. There is worry among analysts that our government has not spent enough time or money on the education of our consumers.
As a Consumer What do I need to Know?
If you currently subscribe to cable or satellite television services you have absolutely nothing to worry about, as saving yourself from the digital switch requires no further action on your part.
However, if you currently watch television on an older analog set with an antenna, you will have to purchase a digital converter box which can be found at the majority of electronic retailers costing anywhere from $40 to $80. These can be purchased after the February 17, 2009 deadline as well.
The television switch only requires that viewers obtain the converter box. Consumer advocacy groups are warning not to be duped by clever sales staff. Even though new televisions might look clearer, and the sound might be crisper, no consumers will need a brand new television or any unnecessary cables for the switch – just the $40 to $80 box, of which a government coupon program is available for $40 rebates (see below).
The switchover comes after several pieces of legislation that were passed in 2005. The laws made it mandatory for broadcasters to go digital, and the publicly-owned airways utilized for analog broadcasting would be auctioned off. The money raised from the auction is placed into a fund, that in turn goes to pay for the converter boxes.
The federal government is still offering consumers up to two $40 coupons (per household) to be used toward the purchase of a digital converter box. These coupons can be obtained by calling 1-888-DTV-2009, or by heading to the website. These coupons are good until March 31st – or until supplies run out.
At this point there are currently 15 million coupons available. However it is advised that individuals act sooner rather than later when trying to obtain coupons.