As hopefully most of you know, the broadcast of analog television signals by all full power TV stations in the US will cease at midnight of the 17th of February 2009. Those who own an analog television set and depend upon over-the-air broadcast signals will need a converter box to continue to watch television on their set, unless they are near a low power TV station, which aren't being affected.
The US government has set aside $1.5 billion dollars to help US households with the transition.
Beginning January 1, 2008, each US household became eligible to request up to two $40 coupons (online at www.DTV2009.gov or by phone at 1-888-DTV-2009) toward the purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. One problem with the coupon program, however, is that many of the coupons are only good for a short time (they are only good for 90 days, and once expired, you can't ask for a new one) and there appears to be a shortage of converter boxes in some areas.
Furthermore, estimates are that a little less than 10% percent of 112.8 million US households, or 10.6 million households, may be unprepared for the transition. Most of these are thought by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to be households that rely solely on over-the-air television signals.
Another issue is that even with a converter box or HDTV, people may not receive as many over-the-air stations as they did before without also buying a new antenna. As noted in a recent Washington Post story,
"Digital signals typically do not travel as far as the old analog signals, according to research by Oded Bendov, who is president of TV Transmission Antenna Group and who will replace broadcast antennas on the Empire State Building. Every city will experience different reception challenges, he said, depending largely on the local landscape. Bendov said that about half of the viewers who now receive analog channels would not reliably receive all of their digital replacements and that viewers more than 40 miles from a broadcast tower would probably need new equipment."
"Consumers may have to adjust their antennas to point them in the direction of the TV station's broadcasting towers. That's because digital signals need more precise positioning than analog signals, said David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, a broadcast industry group."
The government is now saying that those who need converter boxes need to get their coupons now and buy their boxes by the end of summer, or risk not being able to buy them later in the year when it expects demand to really start to peak.
As I said, mid-February 2009 should be interesting.