Television signal goes digital in February

The way Americans watch television is changing drastically in a little more than three months.

On Feb. 17, 2009, television broadcasters will stop analog broadcasts and begin broadcasting in the digital format.

The switch became law in early 2006, when President George W. Bush signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, ushering in a new way to watch television.

The switch gives television viewers a new, crisp picture and better sound, and it frees up analog broadcasting for emergency radio responders.

But the switch comes with a fair amount of consumer confusion as many people try to figure out if they are in compliance or need new equipment.

Following are some common questions and answers surrounding the switch

from information. Data is compiled from the Arizona Broadcasters Association and prior news stories.

Q: Whom does this switch affect?

A: It specifically affects people receiving free, over-the-air broadcast signals using an antenna on top of

the television or on the roof.

According to the ABA, the switch affects 70 million in the nation.

Q: What will my television screen look like after Feb. 17?

A: If you are using an antenna, all you will see is "snow" and all you will hear is static.

Q: What are my options to continue receiving television reception?

A: Consumers currently using antennas can buy a digital converter box for an existing television set, buy a new television with a built-in digital tuner or subscribe to satellite or cable service.

Q: How does the converter box work?

A: The converter box allows your antenna to receive and convert digital signals into a format analog television sets can display.

Q: How much do the converter boxes cost and what stores carry them?

A: The federal government is issuing two $40 coupons per household to defray the cost of the boxes. Retailers, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears and Target sell them. The boxes cost between $40 and $70.

The box enables an analog television set to display programs after the analog transmissions end.

Q: How can I get the coupons? Do they expire?

Coupons are available online at www.dtv2009.gov. The website requires one's first and last name, home address and the number of coupons being requested.

It is important to remember that the coupons expire 90 days from the date they hit the mail. Expiration dates are on the back of each coupon. People can apply for coupons until March 31, 2009.

Q: Are all consumers eligible for the coupons?

A: Every household is eligible.

Q: Does the switch to digital affect cable or satellite customers?

A: No. It affects only people relying on antennas to watch programming.

Q: What are some resources people can use to get more information?

A: Consumers can visit www. Azbroadcasters.org, www.dtvanswers.com or dtv2009.gov.

People may also call the ABA at (602) 252-4833 or (888) 388-2009.

Contact the reporter at jsoifer@prescottaz.com