2009-01-10 / News

'Voinovich's View': Digital TV deadline nears

By US Senator George Voinovich

WASHINGTON - We are one month away from the most significant upgrade in television since the advent of color programming - the federally mandated switch from analog to digital television.

In the Digital Television and Public Safety Act of 2005, Congress set a hard deadline of February 17, 2009, for television stations to replace traditional analog broadcasts. This switch from analog to digital broadcasting is known as the "DTV transition."

When the switch occurs, analog broadcasts previously used for television will now be dedicated to first responder services. One of the lessons of 9/11 was that emergency first responders, police and firefighters require improved systems of communication. The transition to digital television will provide these responders with new frequencies to allow officials from all jurisdictions and levels of government to more easily share information. This will ultimately save lives.

As your United States Senator, I have worked over the past year to help educate Ohioans about the need to prepare for the transition so they are not left in the dark. It was projected that about 720,000 Ohio households would have been affected if the change happened one year ago.

It is my hope that the educational campaigns that have been flooding the airwaves and your mailboxes have decreased that number dramatically, helping many of you decide whether this change will affect you and what you can do to ease the impact of the DTV transition.

The DTV transition won't directly affect everyone. Those who have a digital tuner in their television, or subscribe to a cable, satellite or telephone company television service provider need not worry. But those who are impacted will be impacted dramatically.

You need to take immediate action if you are one of the 19.6 million American households that use a rooftop antenna or "rabbit ears" to receive free, overthe air broadcasts. Even if you do subscribe to a television service provider, you may have a television set in your second bedroom or kitchen that is affected.

Fortunately, navigating the transition is manageable. You only have to follow one of three simple steps to make sure your family continues to receive free, over-the-air television:

1) Purchase a DTV converter box that will convert the digital signal into analog for an 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 available for purchase and cost between $50 and $70. One will still need basic antennas in addition to the converter box to receive a digital signal on their analog television sets, but current antennas will work the same as before.

You may have heard that $40 coupons are available to help cover the cost of converter boxes for eligible households. There is an important development you need to be aware of regarding the federal government's TV Converter Box Coupon Program. Because of high-demand for coupons, the program has reached its $1.34 billion ceiling - which consists of both redeemed and ordered coupons. American households have requested more than 46 million coupons and 18 million of these coupons have been redeemed. But it is not too late.

If these coupons are not redeemed within 90 days from the date mailed, they will expire. The funds from these expired coupons will then become available for the program as they are returned to the U.S. Treasury. You can still contact the Coupon Program to request coupons, but you will currently receive a message that you have been placed on a waiting list and will receive coupons on a first-come, first-serve basis as the funds from the expired coupons becomes available. For more information about the converter box coupon program, call 1-888- DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009) or visit www.dtv2009.gov.

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