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Remember: digitize before February 18th

January 5, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Feb. 17 will soon be upon us and people watching over-the-air broadcast TV without a television digital converter box will be in for a surprise come Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Analog TV screens on that day will display what will look like a good old-fashioned Minnesota blizzard.

Now, if you have been a faithful reader of this column, you would have been aware of this upcoming change since Oct. 23, 2006.

Your humble – and sometimes future-seeing columnist – wrote a column on that date which described the demise of analog television transmission signals in favor of all digital signals.

The Congress of the United States passed a law specifying the date of Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 to be the deadline for all television broadcast stations to stop transmitting their analog signals over the air and convert to them to all digital television signals.

Digital Television (DTV) is going to take over the center seat as the current analog broadcasted signals are about to be sent into retirement.

If you currently have digital cable or digital satellite and a digital television set – you are receiving and watching your broadcasts digitally – the conversion has already been made elsewhere.

It is also important to note you will also need a digital converter box for each analog device you have that only has an “analog tuner” - such as an analog-only VCR or DVD recorder.

The good folks at your Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came up with a program under “Section 3005” called the “Digital to analog-converter box program.”

If you are curious and want to read this section, check out http://www.dtv.gov/DTVAct.pdf.

The following paragraph is a direct quote from the US government documentation contained in Section 3005:

“Two per household maximum. A household may obtain coupons by making a request as required by the regulations under this section between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, inclusive. The assistant secretary shall ensure that each requesting household receives, via the United States Postal Service, no more than two coupons.”

It is also very important to remember that all coupon vouchers will expire three months after being issued.

Many households, during this last year, obtained these coupons which were applied toward the purchase of the digital to analog converter boxes.

These coupons are good for $40 off the cost of each converter.

Many of these converter boxes cost around $60 from what I have seen, so folks buying them still need to come up with $20 out of pocket.

“You should deal with this now,” urges Todd Sedmak, spokesman for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is handling the coupon program.

So far, about 22 million households have requested more than 41 million coupons, the NTIA says.

Only about 14 million have been redeemed.

About 70 million TVs will be affected by the switch, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) predicts, a small portion of the 296 million TVs overall, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

Remember readers, only TVs which use analog antennas, typically those “rabbit ears” or rooftop VHF & UHF antennas (which, “back in the day,” my brothers would go out and adjust in order to get reception of the Vikings broadcasts from a Duluth channel when they were blacked-out locally), will be affected – not cable or satellite fed televisions.

My readers will no doubt realize watching television over the Internet will not be affected.

This television analog-to-digital conversion was not something that was recently talked about either; the US Congress authorized the “television analog-to-digital conversion program” back in 1996.

My siblings and I already have my mom set up for the conversion to digital for her kitchen television, which had been using antenna rabbit ears for so many years.

Your humble columnist is kindly suggesting that if you know of a friend, relative, or someone who is physically challenged that might appreciate some help with the conversion – to help them make the switch, thanks.

If you are interested in learning more about the transition as the time draws near for the digital switch, here is an informative 16-page booklet to obtain information from: http://www.dtv.gov/DTV_booklet.pdf.

Be sure to check out this week’s “Web Site of The Week,” where the Bits_blogger has informed me he will have some exciting information about the analog to digital television conversion along with informative links and a couple of Youtube videos.

Someday – in the not-to-distant future – as I am walking through an antique store with my grandchild, he or she will hold up a small box with a couple of antenna rods sticking out of it.

With a bewildering face, the grandchild will look at me and ask, “Grandpa, what did people use this for?”