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TV viewers may need to purchase converter box

By Helena Atwater
University of Georgia

Television is going digital on Feb.17, 2009. People who receive analog broadcasts will need to make some changes by then to continue to receive the free programming.

“It’s the biggest thing to happen to television since its invention,” said Kathy Klass, a representative for the Digital TV Converter Box Coupon Program.

After Feb. 17, all full-power TV stations will broadcast only digital signals. Digital television will provide better picture and sound quality and more programming, Klass said. The old analog signals will be freed up for emergency services.

The change will affect 12 percent of the population, said Michael Rupured, a consumer economics specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. “The transition will affect people using an analog television set with rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna,” he said.

People watching analog TV will have to connect to a cable or satellite service, buy a television with a digital tuner or purchase a converter box to keep their televisions working.

“Most people won’t be affected because they get service through cable or satellite,” Rupured said. “Some cable or satellite subscribers might need additional equipment to be ready for the switch though, so check with your service provider.”

If you are not sure whether your television has a digital tuner, check the owner’s manual.

Translator and low-power stations

Translator and low-power stations will not be affected by the deadline, he said. Translator stations rebroadcast the programming of full-power stations to people in remote areas. Low-power stations broadcast community or specialty programming.

Low-power stations have call signs consisting of four letters followed by a -CA or –LP. The call sign for translator stations and some low-powered stations starts with a K or W followed by two numbers and ends with two more letters, for example K37ZZ.

If you receive service from these stations and want to continue using an analog TV with an antenna, purchase a converter box with analog capability. This box will allow analog broadcasts as well as digital broadcasts to be viewed.

Converter boxes

Converter boxes cost $50 to $70. Consumers who want to keep their analog TV sets can get help buying a converter box from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has a coupon program.

Coupons are worth $40 each. Every household can receive two coupons.

Klass said approximately 10.9 million households have requested coupons.

To use the coupon, consumers must purchase converters certified by the NTIA at participating stores. Converters can be purchased from participating online retailers, too. If you have purchased a converter box without analog pass through and find you need one with pass through capability, a splitter or antenna switch may be added to the box to get both signals.

Coupon supplies are limited. The NTIA will accept applications until Mar. 31, 2009. Coupon applications and more information is available at www.dtv2009.gov or through calling the 24-hour hotline at 1-888-388-2009.

(Helena Atwater is an intern with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Communications.)

(Helena Atwater is a consumer journalism student at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. )

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