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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Digital TV switch: Questions and links

Some Q&As about the digital TV switch:

Why is this happening? In 2005 a law was passed directing full-power TV stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasting technology. The deadline has been adjusted and is now Feb. 17. Digital broadcasting uses less spectrum than analog, so the move will free up spectrum to be used by emergency services and companies developing new wireless products and services.

Who will be affected? People who depend on free, over-the-air TV broadcasts and have an older, analog TV. For those TVs to continue working, they’ll need a digital converter box. The boxes aren’t needed if you have a newer TV with a digital tuner or subscribe to cable or satellite TV service.

What’s up with the $40 coupons? The funding for the coupons ran out in early January but Congress is likely to fund additional coupons. Lawmakers are also talking about ending the 90-day expiration date on coupons that were issued earlier, in case you haven’t used yours yet.

What about the Comcast converters you wrote about last month? That’s a separate issue affecting Comcast customers with “expanded basic” service. They’ll need a Comcast box on all of their TVs later this year, when Comcast does its own digital conversion.

What channels will I get with one of these digital boxes? All the major channels. Most are broadcasting digitally already, but your reception will vary depending on your location and antenna. Antennaweb.org, a Web site run by the National Association of Broadcasters and Consumer Electronics Association, provides digital channel lineups by neighborhood (but the results can be a little confusing).

Where else can I get information about the switch? The official Web site, www.dtv2009.gov, has lots of information. You can apply for a $40 coupon there, or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009. The city of Seattle also has online information about the switch here.

Comments | More in | Topics: Gadgets & products, Public policy

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