Digital TV transition coming soon -- but does everyone know?

[Associated Press]

On Feb. 18, 2009, tens of millions of televisions that are not equipped to receive digital signals will become useless pieces of furniture. The government is spending $5 million to let owners know so they can do something about it -- not enough, critics say.

While the government has committed $1.5 billion for viewers to spend on converter boxes that will translate digital signals for older televisions, it is largely relying on the broadcast industry to spread the word about the changeover.

John Kneuer, chief of the federal agency tasked with ensuring a smooth digital transition, told the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday that the government will be leaning heavily on broadcasters.

"It's not only their own responsibility, it's in their own interest," said Kneuer, assistant secretary in the Commerce Department and administrator of the National Telecommunications Information Administration.

Some committee members were clearly worried. A poll released in January by the Association of Public Television Stations indicated 61 percent of respondents had "no idea" that the digital transition was going to take place.

There is a "high potential for a train wreck here," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office said 21 million households -- roughly 19 percent of the nation -- rely on an antenna rather than cable or satellite to receive television signals.

The digital transition, once complete, will lead to clearer sound and a sharper picture for television watchers. It also will make better use of the airwaves, freeing prime space in the electromagnetic spectrum that will be auctioned early next year for other uses.

After the first of the year, the government will make available to each household two coupons worth $40 each that can be used to buy two converter boxes. Congress has set aside $1.5 billion to pay for the program.

article originally published at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/325572_digitaltv30.html.

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