Feds Help with DTV Transition

In February 2009, transmission of analog television broadcasts will stop. By some accounts, this will mainly affect the 78 or so million TVs in US households that receive over-the-air (OTA) signals. The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) has been charged with implementing the rebate program that will help pay for digital tuner conversion boxes that will be needed to view digital broadcasts on existing analog sets.

In the initial round, consumers can claim up to two coupons worth $40 each starting in January 2008. If the initial round uses up the $990 million allocated to the program, an additional $510 million will become available. The first round will be available to anyone with an analog-only television. The second round will be just for those consumers who self-certify that they do not subscribe to cable or satellite service. The funds represent a portion of the proceeds that the federal government received from selling the use of many of the analog television broadcast frequencies.

Some experts indicate that the conversion boxes may cost between $50 and $60, but many sources that I’ve consulted indicate that $50 is probably the high end for 2008 prices. Some even indicated that they wouldn’t be surprised to see prices closer to $25. It’s not clear how the coupon program will work if prices fall to that level; will the government pay consumers to get a conversion box? And all televisions and other devices with TV tuners sold in this country after March 31 must have a digital tuner, so it’s quite possible that the 78 million household number will be considerably smaller by the time the 2009 shut-off occurs.