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Tampa Bay area mostly prepared as digital TV conversion deadline looms

Most people in the Tampa Bay area are already prepared for Friday's conversion to digital television.

For the stragglers who haven't replaced their rabbit ear antennas, area stores still have plenty of digital converter boxes in stock.

At the end of May, the Nielsen Co. estimated that more than 93 percent of households in the Tampa Bay area were completely ready for the conversion.

The media research firm reported that a little more than 1 percent of local households were completely unready, below the national average of more than 2 percent.

Only a small number of people do not already subscribe to paid television service, said Tony Palermo, vice president of marketing for Knology, a broadband provider in Pinellas County. Cable and satellite subscribers won't be affected Friday, he said.

"We're really expecting it to be a nonevent kind of like the Y2K, when everyone bulked up and nothing happened," Palermo said.

Knology hasn't seen any surge in customers in the past couple of months as the deadline approached, Palermo said.

Verizon reports a similar experience. "Our system seems more geared for people who want bundles," Verizon spokesman Bob Elek said. "We really haven't seen much of a push or drive or anything for that matter for digital conversion."

Bright House spokesman Joe Durkin said the cable provider has experienced a "tremendous influx" in customers taking advantage of its $9.99 monthly basic cable deal.

Bright House does not require installation of a cable box, an attractive feature for many customers, he said. It's also better than purchasing additional equipment to convert an analog television, he said.

"While the converter box comes with a coupon from the government, a converter box is only for one TV," he said. "It also needs an antenna. There is a lot more involved."

The government has been planning the conversion for years to free up analog airwaves for public safety communication.

The conversion was originally scheduled for Feb. 17 until President Barack Obama pushed the deadline to Friday to give consumers more time to prepare.

Anyone still using analog television who doesn't want to subscribe to cable or buy a digital television will have to purchase a digital converter. Converters are still well stocked at most local retail stores, including RadioShack, CVS and Target.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has offered $40 government coupons for digital converter boxes since January of 2008. More than 59 million coupons have been requested.

Consumers have until July 31 to apply for up to two coupons per household as supplies last. It normally takes nine business days for requests to be processed and mailed.

Fast facts

Conversion help

Visit www.dtv.gov to apply online for converter box coupons and for more information about the digital conversion.

Apply for coupons over the phone at 1-888-DTV-2009.

Tampa Bay area mostly prepared as digital TV conversion deadline looms 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 8:01pm]

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