Changes in the world of television
By Richard C. Snell
Feb. 17 will be an important date and I hope you will be ready. Unless you don't watch television at all or have been hiding under a rock, you must know that older televisions that get signals through an antenna, will not be able to receive stations after that date.
Since I am an agriculturalist and not an electronics salesman or television broadcaster, why am I telling you this? Well, many of the people that I work with, live in the rural areas where cable television is not available. Many don't have the time to watch enough television to pay for satellite programming. There are some folks that live in town that don't subscribe to cable or satellite either. If you are not big into the Internet, many of you still use television, newspapers and radio to get your information. So, here is some information to get you caught up.
The switch from analog to digital broadcast television is referred to as the digital TV transition. Back in 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station, so that they could start a digital broadcast channel while simultaneously continuing their analog broadcast channel. Later, Congress mandated that Feb. 17 would be the last day for full-power television stations to broadcast in analog. Broadcast stations in all U.S. markets are currently broadcasting in both analog and digital. After Feb. 17, full-power television stations will broadcast in digital only.
Why are we switching to DTV? An important benefit of the switch to all-digital broadcasting is that it will free up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads). Also, some of the spectrum will be auctioned to companies that will be able to provide consumers with more advanced wireless services (such as wireless broadband).
Consumers also benefit because digital broadcasting allows stations to offer improved picture and sound quality, and digital is much more efficient than analog. For example, rather than being limited to providing one analog program, a broadcaster is able to offer a super sharp high definition (HD) digital program or multiple standard definition (SD) digital programs simultaneously through a process called multi-casting. Multi-casting allows broadcast stations to offer several channels of digital programming at the same time, using the same amount of spectrum required for one analog program. So, for example, while a station broadcasting in analog on channel 9 is only able to offer viewers one program, a station broadcasting in digital on channel 9 can offer viewers one digital program on channel 9-1, a second digital program on channel 9-2, a third digital program on channel 9-3, and so on. This means more programming choices for viewers.
What do I need to do to be ready for the end of analog TV broadcasting? Because Congress mandated that the last day for full-power television stations to broadcast in analog would be Feb. 17, over-the-air TV broadcasts will be in digital only after that date. If you have one or more televisions that receive free over-the- air television programming (with a roof-top antenna or rabbit ears on the TV), the type of TV you own is very important. A digital television (a TV with an internal digital tuner) will allow you to continue to watch free over-the-air programming after Feb. 17. However, if you have an analog television, you will need a digital-to-analog converter box to continue to watch broadcast television on that set. This converter box will also enable you to see any additional multicast programming that your local stations are offering.
To help consumers with the DTV transition, the Government established the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the Department of Commerce, administers this program. Every U.S. household is eligible to receive up to two coupons, worth $40 each, toward the purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. Beginning in January 2008, the NTIA began accepting applications for coupons. The coupons may only be used for eligible converter boxes sold at participating consumer electronics retailers, and the coupons must be used at the time of purchase. (Please note that these coupons will expire 90 days after mailing). Manufacturers estimate that digital-to-analog converter boxes will sell from $40 to $70 each. This is a one- time cost. For more information on the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program, visit www.dtv2009.gov, or call 1-888-388-2009 (voice) or 1-877-530-2634 (TTY).
Cable and satellite TV subscribers with analog TVs hooked up to their cable or satellite service should not be affected by the Feb. 17 cut-off date for full-power analog broadcasting.