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TV antenna users face 2009 transition

As the Feb. 17, 2009 date for a federally mandated digitaltelevision transition draws near, efforts are being carried out inBrookhaven to raise awareness for those who will be affected by thechange.

“What we’re trying to do is start getting the word out,” saidCable One Marketing Manager Julia Ivey. “There’s a lot of people inour area that use antennae and rabbit ears to get local channelsout of Jackson, and once the transition takes place, they’re notgoing to get it anymore.”

The digital television transition will only affect citizens whogather signals from local broadcast stations in the old way – withan antenna on a home or smaller “rabbit ears” on top of atelevision.

Those devices only gather analog television signals. Once thedigital transition is made, those antennae will only produce ablack picture.

In order for antennae users to continue to receive signals, theywould need to purchase either a digital conversion box or a newertelevision, most of which – those manufactured since 2004 – havedigital tuners built in.

In order to assist in the purchasing of digital conversionboxes, which a National Association of Broadcasters Web site(http://www.dtvanswers.com/dtv_switchover.html) estimates at $40 to$70 in price, the National Telecommunications and InformationAdministration will be providing up to two $40 coupons perhousehold.

The number of coupons is limited. According to the NTIA Website, as of March 10 almost $293 million worth of coupons have beenordered to be distributed to 3.8 million applicants. Theadministration lists 250 certified retailers that will be acceptingthe coupons.

Harvey Electronics Radio Shack, which is already selling thedigital conversion boxes, is one local provider that will beaccepting the government coupons.

Store manager Kevin Harvey said the boxes have only recently hitshelves. His store currently is offering only one model, Zenith,for $59 – a $19 purchase with an NTIA coupon.

“They go up in price from there, depending on the features,”Harvey said. “Whether or not they have a programmable remote to gowith them that will work on a TV as well as the digital conversionbox. The $59 Zenith has no programmable remote – the remote onlycontrols the digital conversion box, kind of like the remotes thatwent with the old cable boxes.”

Because of the large amount of time between now and the digitaltelevision transition, Harvey has only sold two of the conversionboxes thus far.

“No one is really pushing for them now because you don’t have tohave them yet,” he said. “But a lot of people are asking questionsabout it, and a lot of people are still sending off forcoupons.”

Harvey said his Radio Shack is registered with the government inorder to accept the $40 coupons. When a customer purchases adigital conversion box with a government-issued coupon, theretailer will enter a code on a Web site to check the coupon’svalidity.

Subscribers to cable or satellite services, however, will not beaffected by the digital television transition, as the providingservices will convert the signals before they are transmitted tothe subscribers.

“You don’t need that box if you’re using cable,” Ivey said. “Ifyou have Cable One, you don’t have to do anything – we’re gonnaconvert the signals for you.”

Ivey said some broadcast stations, by permission of a federalwaiver, will not begin digital broadcasts in February.

But the waivers will eventually expire and soon every broadcaststation in the country will be required to broadcast digitally byorder of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of2005 of the Federal Communications Commission. It was passed byCongress for two reasons – to establish a digital communicationsspectrum for emergency responders and to allow high definitiontelevision.

“Some of the stations may not have to do it right on that date,but they’re gonna have to do it eventually,” Ivey said. “Themandatory date is February, and that’s what we’re going by to getpeople prepared.”

Of the three main networks broadcast locally, all will switch,or will have switched, to digital transmission by Feb. 17, 2009.WAPT 16, the ABC affiliate in Jackson, will switch to digitalbroadcasting on Feb. 17, 2009. WJTV 12, Jackson’s CBS station, willalso make the switch on the specified date. WLBT 3, the NBC stationin Jackson, is already broadcasting in digital and has been doingso for almost two years.

As other stations prepare to go digital slightly less than oneyear from now, Cable One will step up its efforts to publicize theevent.

“This is something everyone should know about,” Ivey said. “Westill get calls asking about it. We’re going to be running ads isit gets closer to the transition time to keep people aware ofwhat’s going on. Not everyone has Cable One, and we don’t want themto go out and purchase anything they don’t need.”