Update: After going to press, Congress voted to extend the DTV deadline until June 12, 2009.
In less than two weeks — February 17, 2009, to be exact (though there remains a possibility this date will be extended by Congress to June) — all full power broadcast television stations will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital (DTV).
DTV is touted as providing a dramatically clearer picture, better sound quality, more channels, high definition television (HDTV) for those with HD equipped TVs, and can transmit interactive video and data services.
The major driving force behind the switch to digital was to free up analog airwaves for our first responders: police, fire and rescue. Due to increasingly crowded airwaves, our nation’s first responders have had significant disruptions to their communications networks. This freed up analog spectrum will allow more effective coordination and communication in an emergency — aiding their ability to protect and lives.
If you are a cable or satellite subscriber your service will continue without disruption. Most Northern Virginians watch TV via a cable or satellite provider (including Comcast, Cox, DirecTV etc).
However, if you are one of the 12 million Americans who don’t fall into this category — those who use an antenna to watch TV — your TV will go dark Feb. 17 if you do not take action.
For antenna users on a television built prior to 2007, you should check to see if it has a digital tuner (the FCC began requiring all televisions sold in the U.S. be equipped with a digital tuner starting March, 2007). Most TVs have labels or markings on them to indicate whether they have a digital tuner. Labels such as “Integrated Digital Tuner,” “Digital Tuner Built-In,” “Digital Receiver,” “Digital Tuner,” “DTV,” or “ATSC,” all indicate that your TV is DTV enable. If your television has a digital tuner, it will continue to receive broadcasts after the transition to digital and no action need be taken.
For those using an antenna on a TV that does not have a digital tuner you must purchase a converter box to continue using your set to watch broadcast TV.
Converter boxes can be found in local electronic retail stores (Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack etc) and range in cost from $30 to $80. To defray these costs, the government has made two $40 coupons per household available, to buy two converter boxes. Currently, the TV Converter Box Coupon Program has reached its funding ceiling. However, coupon requests from eligible households will be filled as funds from expiring coupons become available.
To apply for your coupon, review coupon eligible converters, or find a retailer selling converter boxes near you, you can visit www.dtv2009.gov or call 1-888-DTV-2009. You will be placed on a waiting list and will receive coupons on a first-come-first-served basis as funds become available.
If you know a family member, friend or neighbor who currently uses an antenna — particularly if they are elderly — please feel free to share this information with them. The switch to digital may be especially difficult for these households to make a smooth transition.