The Bruce Springsteen song “57 Channels [And Nothin’ On]” will soon take on new meaning for consumers stuck with analog television sets, unless they take advantage of an ill-publicized federal program.
With a Feb. 18, 2009 deadline looming for television stations to stop broadcasting analog signals and transmit only digital signals, an estimated 50,000 Capital Region residents could find themselves staring at blank screens, according to statistics released Thursday by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
To avoid that outcome, the mostly rural, elderly and low-income consumers with analog sets can purchase analog-to-digital converter boxes with the federal government’s assistance.
Since January, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been accepting applications for $40 coupons to subsidize the cost of the converter boxes. They sell for between $40 and $70, according to an FCC Web site.
“It’s not going to be a smooth transition,” Schumer said in a Thursday conference call with reporters.
By June 5, a total of 726,111 New Yorkers had applied for converter box coupons, but only 132,432 vouchers have been redeemed. Consumer can receive up to two coupons each, but many do not know they expire three months after being issued. In New York, 41,047 coupons have expired, according to Schumer.
Unlike digital signals that contain programming information in the form of zeros and ones, analog signals are made of electronic impulses. Converter boxes are available at stores such as Best Buy and Radio Shack.
“People are already in the dark,” Schumer said.
A Government Accountability Office study recently found that only half of Americans are aware of the converter coupon program and even fewer people plan to apply for the vouchers. Forty-five percent of households with analog sets have not taken adequate steps to make the transition to digital.
The senator said he will submit legislation calling for more funding for digital television transition public awareness campaigns. He will urge President Bush to direct the NTIA to allow consumers with expired coupons to reapply for new vouchers. He also wants the president to establish a federal task force to oversee the digital television transition.
Congress approved the analog-to-digital switch with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The nation’s all-digital format is expected to produce better-quality pictures, more television programs and new services. It will also free up airwaves for other uses, such as public safety communications.
In May 2007, the Federal Trade Commission started requiring retailers to post on analog-only equipment information about the switch to digital.
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