What Can I Do to Prepare for TV’s Digital Transition on Friday?
What can I do to prepare for TV’s digital transition on Friday?
If you haven’t already worked out a television setup that will allow you to view digital signals, you aren’t quite out of luck.
You may remember that television’s digital transition was supposed to occur this past February. Unfortunately for cable companies, the government stepped in and extended the deadline. The reason? Too many people were simply not prepared. But it wasn’t totally the consumer’s fault.
If you own an analog television, and many of us do, you can still receive televsion through a converter box that sits on top of your television and converts digital cable signals into analog signals that your old school television can recognize. The problem for many people — cost. These converer boxes run for well over $60, including tax. So the government began to issue vouchers for this technology, “coupons” that brought the cost of the converters down to around $24.
Unfortunately for the government, the vouchers were scarce or non existent in many television markets, including in my current home state of New Mexico. This, combined with serious pressure from consumers, led the government to push back the transition date. That day is coming, this Friday, June 12th. After Thursday night, television broadcasters are forbidden from sending out any analog signals.
What can you do if you haven’t already bought your converter box, or subscribed to a service that will ensure you get the new digital signal?
For more information on how to survive the digital transition, visit the FCC’s Web site dedicated to the transition at www.dtv.gov or call their hotline at (888) 225-5322 . To apply for a coupon to help pay for a converter box, go to www.dtv2009.gov.
This Friday will mark the final attempt to make the national transition to all digital television. Older television sets not equipped to receive digital signals can still be used, with the addition of an outboard box as mentioned before. The device is not exactly inconvenient — it is smaller than a DVD player and should easily fit into your home entertainment system.
The voucher program is ongoing. In fact, I found out this morning, via a call to the FCC, that many vouchers are still available.
“We have our guidelines available online free of charge” said the customer service rep from the FCC. When asked what the FCC is most concerned about regarding the transition, the answer was crystal clear: senior citizens. “We’ve been doing everything we can to help seniors get set up with digital.” My representative mentioned, again, that the FCC guidelines were available for free online (and at senior centers and other locations in cities around the nation) and that these guidelines have easy to follow instructions that just about anyone should be able to follow. If a citizen still has trouble installing the box, they can always do what I did, and call the FCC. That number again — (888) 225-5322.
While there was indeed a shortage of converter boxes (not just the vouchers for the boxes), this shortage appears to have ended. Check it out yourself — go to your local Radio Shack, Best Buy, or electronics store of your choice. They likely have converter boxes stacked floor to ceiling. The FCC expects many people to wait until weeks or months after the transition to break down and get a box, and have warned major electronics distributors to be ready for this rush on converters boxes.
If you’re looking to get a voucher at this late hour, go ahead — but you won’t get it in time to buy a cheaper box before the transition, which occurs this Friday, early in the morning. You can go ahead and buy the box yourself, for somewhere between $60 and $70, but it is unlikely that any retailer will take the box back and exchange it for a cheaper one after you’ve opened it.
At my local electronics dealer, converter devices are selling “incredibly well”, according to store manager Danielle Munoz. She added that she was surprised how many people have put off the purchase of their converter box to what literally appears to be “the last moment”. Hey, some of us are procrastinators.
I wasn’t aware of this until I spoke to the FCC, but several major electronics retailers, including Radio Shack, have converter box installers on staff, temporarily, who will go to your home and help you handle the digital transition. At this late date ,you can expect these installers to be booked up.
Some people will attempt to depend on “tabletop” digital antennas, which are smaller and cheaper, and which many people already own, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, when asked, my friend at the FCC said this was a last ditch effort that people should avoid. The problem lies in signal strength. “Unless you live down the block from the source of the digital signal, you’re out of luck.” It appears that the signals of so called “regional broadcasters” are even weaker, causing people who live in remote areas to wonder if it is even worth purchasing a converter box.
As for why the digital transition was necessary, and why the government is requiring everyone to “go digital” — there’s a simple answer. The FCC says the switch was motivated by the need for emergency services. You see, by forcing commercial television broadcasters off of the analog signal, more analog space is available for police, fire, 911, etc. The end result of the digital transition is that emergency responders will be in better communication with one another.
So, if you’ve put this off to the last minute, your best bet is to go ahead and swallow the $60 or $70 purchase price of the converter box. You simply won’t get your voucher in time to use it.
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 11th, 2009 at 7:41 am and is filed under News, Technology, Television. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.