Get digital TV converter, or apply for coupon, now
The switch to DTV has been delayed to June 12, but the time to prepare is now.
Broadcasters started to transmit in digital as well as analog even before the Feb. 17 deadline.
If you're using an analog television set with an antenna and you don't wish to subscribe to cable or satellite service or buy a new TV, you'll need a digital converter box. With it, the digital signals your antenna is pulling down over the air are converted into analog signals for your TV to process. You'll notice the signals are much clearer and sharper than analog.
One reason is that analog signals in the airwaves can be affected by interference and still be viewed on your TV, although at a lesser quality. In contrast, digital transmissions either come in with a strong signal or not at all, so if you're able to view a channel that means the signal is good.
Some folks who live near the edge of town or in rural areas who can pick up certain stations in that fuzzy, analog range now may no longer get those stations.
Obtaining a converter box is as easy as visiting your local electronics retailer and shelling out anywhere from $40 to $70, at least for now.
Stores may run short on the boxes, warns the Consumer Electronics Association, since the manufacturers stopped making them in January, anticipating demand to fall off after Feb. 17. Assembly lines have started up again, but there may be a delay getting shipments to retailers.
If you want the government's help to pay for it, you'll have to wait too.
The coupon program is bankrupt and waiting for either an influx of money from President Obama's economic stimulus plan or for some of the nearly 46 million coupons previously distributed to expire. When that happens, new coupons can be issued.
Joel Kelsey, policy analyst with Consumers Union, has been an advocate of delaying the official transition date for just this reason.
"It's safe to say that expediting the coupon program, putting more funding into the coupon program and helping out the million-plus consumers on a waiting list right now for the coupons . . . will help mitigate questions, concerns and problems that consumers will face dealing with this federally mandated transition."
If you haven't applied for a coupon, do it now. It doesn't matter that you'll wind up on a waiting list. Just apply. You get two per household; they're available at www.dtv2009.gov or by calling toll-free 1-888-388-2009, or by writing to TV Converter Box Coupon Program, P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000. If you call during business hours, you'll most likely get to talk to a human.
For more information, visit the FCC Web site at www.DTV.gov or call toll-free 1-888-225-5322. The most complete Web site for more general info is www.dtvtransition.org. Both include easy to understand, step-by-step instructions for how to install and set up your digital converter box.
Information from the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento (Calif.) Bee and Associated Press was used in this report.