The countdown to the switch to digital television is on, and if you're not ready, you could be left in the dark.
In exactly one month, on Tuesday, Feb. 17, all full-power broadcast television stations across the country will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. The transition is one that's been in the making for more than a decade, when Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the government agency which regulates television broadcasts, the legislation began the transition process by distributing an additional broadcast channels to television stations to simultaneously broadcast on both analog and digital frequencies. This year's Feb. 17 deadline was assigned to ensure the transition would be complete by that time.
The change was called for by Congress in order to free up analog frequencies for use by public safety officials such as police, fire and emergency rescue personnel. The FCC claims the benefit to television viewers will be "improved picture and sound quality and additional channels."
In order for televisions to receive the digital channels, there are a few options. Those who utilize antennas to on a television set with an analog tuner must either subscribe to cable, satellite or other pay television service; upgrade to a television with a digital tuner or purchase a digital-to-analog converter box, which converts digital signals for viewing on an analog television.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been offering coupons to cover the cost of converter boxes since January 2008. Since that time, 25 million people have requested coupons through the program, with 18.8 million already having been redeemed. Overall, the NTIA is able to distribute coupons for 33.5 million converter boxes, although time is now running out.
Now, the likelihood of applying for, receiving and redeeming a coupon before Feb. 17 is "zip," said Forbes. As of Jan. 12, the waiting list to receive a converter box coupon contains approximately 1.7 million names.