Giving Up the Ghost
Facts about the digital television transition
This year, America’s television will cease to broadcast with radio frequency waves on the analog spectrum. Replacing it will be computer code, a more efficient form of broadcasting in the 0, 1 language of digital. The switch is set to take place at midnight Feb. 17. Legislation that would have delayed the end of analog until June 12 passed unanimously in the Senate on Monday, Jan. 26, and while it was expected to pass in the House, failed on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
While the impending switch is causing much brouhaha, the basic facts are easy to understand. Sure, more than a few sweater-clad, hairy-eared geezers will be striking their sets in confusion and futilely applying aluminum foil to their antennas. However, the switch does not concern much of the TV-viewing public, as only “free” TV is affected. Here's what you need to know and where to find more information on the DTV conversion.
• As the transition to DTV frees up airwaves on the analog spectrum, the vacated space will be given to emergency responders and auctioned to businesses for new wireless services. Consumer benefits of DTV are better picture and sound quality, free high-def on compatible sets and more channels (see “Extra Channels on the Dial”).
• To complete the switch if you're an analog user, your options are: Get “pay” TV (cable and satellite customers are not affected by the switch), buy a modern TV set with a digital tuner (if your TV was made prior to 2004, it probably doesn't have one; if it was made afterwards it still may not) or buy a digital converter box to connect to your TV.
• Digital converter boxes can be attained where electronics are sold and cost approximately $40 to $70. Congress allocated more than $1.3 billion to a coupon program in which citizens were given $40 to go toward the purchase of certain boxes. To get on the waiting list for a coupon, go to dtv2009.gov or call (800) DTV-2009.
• Rural communities receiving their signals through translators, as well as low-power stations, are not required to switch to digital until February of 2012 (see “Low Power or No Power?”). The gradual transition to digital has been in effect for a decade, and DTV is now up and running for anyone to receive. The FCC advises the public to convert ASAP rather than procrastinate.
• The environmental impact of electronic waste created by thousands of new televisions coming into existence—and thousands going into landfills amid the switch—is considerable. For information on how to recycle old television sets, go to mygreenelectronics.org.
According to the FCC, rural communities, the elderly, non-English-speakers, low-income viewers and the disabled are most at risk of losing their access to television as a result of the switch. Various public education campaigns are providing information about DTV. Here's how to connect to them.
New Mexico Broadcasters Association
New Mexico Media Literacy Project
Federal Communications Commission