National Commentary

Jim Moran’s News Commentary

What has been heralded as the most significant upgrade in television since color TV is on the way. The transition from analog to digital television (DTV) is said to represent the most noteworthy advancement of television technology since color TV was introduced. While nearly every new technology we use today has gone digital– including cell phones, music and radio — television has been behind the curve. Come February 17, 2009 that will change.

Digital television is promoted as providing crystal clear pictures and CD quality sound; more choices through additional digital side channels – such as all weather or all traffic channels; and the capability of high-definition broadcasting.

More than 90 percent of full-power television stations in the U.S. are already broadcasting in digital, but few consumers are aware of it or the February 2009 transition. In an April e-News poll I conducted with constituents, 47 percent said that more needed to be done to make the public aware of the coming transition.

Who needs to get ready? The DTV transition doesn’t directly affect everyone – those who have a digital tuner in their television, or subscribe to cable, satellite or telephone company television service provider need not worry. But those who are impacted are impacted dramatically. You need to take action if you are one of the 19.6 million households that rely exclusively on free, over-the-air broadcasts made available through a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears.” Even if you do subscribe to a television service provider, you may have a television set in your second bedroom or kitchen that is impacted. Overall, the transition will directly impact more than 69 million television sets.

Fortunately, navigating the transition is easy. You have three options 1) purchase a DTV converter box 2) buy a new TV with a built-in digital tuner or 3) subscribe to cable, satellite, or a telephone provided TV service.
I’m going to focus on the first option because it is the cheaper yet newest and therefore least understood of the three options.

Purchasing a DTV converter box will convert the new digital signal into analog for your existing analog television set. The DTV converter box, sometimes referred to as a set-top box, is an electronic device that makes the new digital signal viewable on an older analog television set. Converter boxes are now available for purchase at most major electronics retailers and cost between $40 and $70. To help cover the cost of the converter box, the federal government is offering two converter box coupons, valued at $40 each, to eligible households. Each coupon may be used toward the purchase of a single converter box. You will still need an antenna in addition to the converter box to receive a digital signal on analog television sets, (current antennas will work the same as before). For more information about the converter box coupon program or to apply, you can visit www.DTV2009.gov or call 1 (888) DTV-2009.

While there is still time to decide how to handle the digital television transition, it’s a good idea to start thinking about which option will work best for you. Eligible consumers are encouraged to apply early for the converter box coupons. If you choose to purchase a new television set with a digital tuner, take time to learn about available options and features and shop around for the best deal. Leaning toward a subscription to a cable, satellite or telephone company television service? Then spend some time looking into which of these services best suits your viewing needs and fits into your monthly budget.

The digital television transition is coming, and if its proponents are correct, it will mean a better quality television experience for everyone. Consumers need to be prepared so they don’t lose their free television programming by failing to consider their options in advance.

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