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Awareness effort targets transition to digital television

As the Feb. 17, 2009 deadline for the switch to digital-only TVbroadcasting approaches, the National Association of Broadcasters’effort to promote transition awareness of the transition isreaching almost everyone in the country – except 15 percent ofMississippians.

NAB Digital Television Transition Media Relations Manager LindaYun said a recent association survey of the 50 states showstransition awareness in Mississippi at 85 percent, lagging behindthe national average of 90 percent. NAB’s $1.2 billion advertisingand education campaign apparently has not penetrated into the homesof approximately 420,000 Mississippians.

“We’re hoping to get as much information as possible out to thepeople so they will know if they are affected by the transition andwhat they need to do to be ready,” Yun said.

To be ready, people who still gather their TV channels frombroadcast sources using antennae and rabbit ears will have toeither purchase a digital signal conversion box or a new TV withthe technology built in.

After all broadcasts go digital 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 17, thosestill trying to watch their favorite TV stations without thenecessary equipment will be unable to see the digital transmissionon their analog sets. The picture will show up as snowy static, Yunsaid.

People who subscribe to cable or satellite will not be affectedby the digital transition.

The transition was mandated in the Federal CommunicationsCommission’s Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of2005, a law designed to clear up the TV broadcast spectrum for useby emergency responders and officials, as well as provide highdefinition TV.

Since the government has demanded the transition, it will alsobe helping to cover the costs of the new equipment. The governmentis issuing $40 coupons, accepted at most retail outlets, that knockthe cost of most of the conversion boxes down to around $20.

From a financial standpoint, this is where Mississippi’s laggingawareness could take a toll.

Of the 28.2 million coupons requested nationally thus far, Yunsaid approximately half are no longer valid. The $40 coupons areonly good for 90 days after issuance, and about 14 million peopleapparently have held their coupons too long.

People have only one shot at receiving the coupons.

“If they expire, you can’t reapply,” Yun said. “If you havecoupons that have expired, the government is encouraging people tohave friends, neighbors or family who don’t need coupons, but areeligible, to order them for you.”

People may apply for a coupon by visiting government’s Web siteat www.dtv2009.gov. Each household is allowed up to twocoupons.

Once a coupon expires, the $40 set aside for it goes back intothe National Telecommunications and Information Administration’smain fund – a good thing for the government, since coupons areabout to be made available to a larger number of thepopulation.

Yun said coupons would be available to residents of nursinghomes and people who have only post office boxes beginning Oct. 20,two segments of the population that have been erroneously excludedfrom the deal because of the definition of “household” thegovernment has used to issue the coupons.

“Digital TV is available now, so people don’t have to wait untilFebruary to go out and buy their boxes and hook them up,” Yun said.”We’re encouraging people to do it now – don’t be in a situationwhere you have an expired coupon.”

Representatives of two Brookhaven retailers said the conversionboxes have been popular items. At times, waiting lists have beenneeded.

“The demand is higher than the supply,” said Sears SalesAssociated Jessica Smith. “We don’t know when we’re going to getthem or what brand they’re going to be.”

Smith said her store receives shipments of the conversion boxessporadically, and most are sold immediately. Sears has sold morethan 50 of the devices since they began being shipped earlier thisyear, she said.

“We have a list – we put holds on them because people areworried they’re not going to get them,” she said.

Harvey Electronics Radio Shack Manager Kevin Harvey said hisstore has sold between 400 and 500 of the boxes this year, andalmost every shipment that comes in is already spoken for.

“Since we started selling them at the beginning of the year,we’ve had maybe 20 to put out on the shelf that weren’t spokenfor,” he said.

At one point, Harvey said the waiting list for the boxes was upto 150 names.

“They just couldn’t make them fast enough,” he said.

Harvey said the demand has slowed down in recent months, but heexpects it to pick up again as February approaches. His store sellsfour brands of the boxes at different prices, all of which arecoupon-eligible.

Neither Radio Shack nor Sears has experienced difficulty inaccepting and cashing in the coupons.