FCC Gets Ready for DTV Converters

The first 100 retailers have been certified by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in preparation for the federal discount program for converter boxes. These retailers represent about 15,000 individual outlets, which will be eligible to accept the $40 coupons for converter boxes. Some of the approved chains include Best Buy, Circuit City, K-Mart, Radio Shack, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart.

These converter boxes will allow older televisions with only an analog tuner to receive the digital television broadcast signals when most stations stop analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009. Consumers will be able to apply for the $40 discount coupons starting in early 2008. You can get up to two coupons per household; there are no eligibility requirements. You will be able to request coupons between January 1 and March 31, 2008, and you’ll have 90 days to redeem the coupons. If the initial funding allocation is used up, then a second round of coupons will be issued, but only to households that only have over-the-air television service (in other words, no cable or satellite service). The details are available at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/dtvcoupon/index.html.

Most people don’t need the converter box at all. If you have purchased a television since March this year, it almost certainly has a digital tuner. If you have cable or satellite service, your television will continue to receive television programming exactly as it does now. Only if you get your programming with an antenna, free over the air, and you have an older television, will you need a converter. Note that the converter box will not make your old television an HDTV; it simply lets your set receive the digital broadcasts. If a show is broadcast in high definition, it will be scaled down to match your television’s resolution.