Digital TV Transition

What if you woke up one morning and turned on your television only to find that no stations came in, not a single one? On February 18, 2009, it is possible that some Americans who failed to plan for the government-mandated transition to digital television could end up in this unenviable situation. Luckily, there is still a year left for consumers to educate themselves on the transition and make any changes necessary to continue receiving free, over-the-air television broadcasts after analog transmissions cease.

The digital television transition (DTV transition) has been mandated by Congress for several reasons. First, requiring TV stations to make the switch from analog to digital transmission will free up valuable broadcast spectrum that can be used for public safety communications and advanced wireless services, including high speed wireless broadband Internet. Second, digital broadcasting technology allows television stations to provide improved picture quality and sound to consumers. Digital broadcasting also allows stations to offer several channels of programming at the same time and the ability to provide interactive data and video services.

So what equipment is needed to receive digital television? Many newer television sets already include a digital tuner, and if you subscribe to a cable or satellite television service, you're already covered, since the service converts digital signals to analog. If your analog television relies on over-the-air signals, you will need to take one of several steps in order to continue receiving programming after the DTV transition. You may purchase a digital-to-analog converter box, which allows digital signals to be viewed on an analog television set. You could also purchase a television with a digital tuner or subscribe to a cable or satellite service. Fortunately, consumers who rely on over-the-air signals can take advantage of the federal government's Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Coupon Program. This program provides up to two forty dollar coupons per household to be used toward the purchase of eligible digital-to-analog converter boxes. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), digital converter boxes cost between forty and seventy dollars. For more information on the program, or to apply for a coupon, visit:, call the Coupon Program 24-hour hotline 1-888-388-2009, mail a coupon application (available on the Program's website) to: P.O. Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000, or fax the application 1-877-388-4632.

You may be wondering if your television is ready for the DTV transition. Many televisions manufactured over the past few years contain digital tuners. Look for labels or markings on your television that read "Integrated Digital Tuner," "Digital Tuner Built-In," "Digital Receiver," or "Digital Tuner," "DTV," "ATSC," or "HDTV." If your television contains one of these labels or markings, you should be able to receive digital broadcasts. If your television is labeled "analog" or "NTSC," and there is no other label indicating that it contains a digital tuner, it likely contains an analog tuner only. If you are unable to determine whether your television contains a digital tuner, contact your retailer or the manufacturer.

For more information on the digital television transition, visit the FCC's DTV website at: This site contains helpful fact sheets, shopping guides and videos on the transition. You may also call 1-888-225-5322 or write to: Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554. If you plan to upgrade to a digital television set, and will be discarding your analog set, or any other electronic device, there are several options for properly disposing of such items. Visit the Consumer Electronics Association's Green Electronics website for information about recycling consumer electronics.

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