Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Coming Digital TV Signal

In last year's January February Generation Community newsletter, we told you about the coming television broadcasting change in which all television signals will go from analog to digital in February 2009. It is hard to believe it has already been a year, but February is just around the corner. The TV signal change is scheduled to happen on February 17, 2009. For millions of Americans the transition should be seamless, because everyone that gets their programming through cable or satellite service should get the new signal converted by the cable or satellite company.

Congress ordered the change to all-digital broadcasting to free up channels for police, fire, and emergency personnel. The FCC says that the digital transition offers many benefits even beyond public safety. They believe it will open the door to new wireless services for consumers, allow TV stations to offer better picture and sound quality, and enable TV stations to broadcast several programs at the same time.

Again, if you get your TV programming through a cable or satellite provider, then you will not need a converter box to receive the new digital signal after February 17th. If you receive your television signal via a rooftop antenna or "rabbit ears", then the rest of this article is for you. A rootop antenna or rabbit ear antenna will not understand the new digital signal, so you will have three options to continue receiving programming. You can (1) connect your current analog TV to a digital converter (which we'll explain more in a moment), (2) connect your current analog TV to a paid service such as cable or satellite service, or (3) purchase a new TV with a built in digital tuner, also known as a digitial television.

If you decide to purchase a converter for your current analog TV, the US Department of Commerce will give you a $40 coupon to use toward the purchase (up to 2 per household). Most converters start around $60, so this means that you will not need to pay much more than $20 for your converter. So how do you obtain the coupon? If you have internet access, you can apply for the coupon online by going to or by phone by calling 888-DTV-2009. You can apply for the coupon anytime from now until March 31, 2009. The coupon will be mailed to you at the address you supplied when applying. It will be a plastic card that looks like a typical gift card. Please note that the coupon will only be good for 90 days after their mail date. If you decide you don't need your coupon, you may give it away to someone, but it is illegal to sell them. According to the website listed above, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Target stores in Lynchburg and Roanoke participate in the program, and will accept your coupon.

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