Consumers advised to prepare for DTV switch

On Feb. 17, 2009, all full-power broadcast television stations on America - including local network affiliates that provide news, weather and other information - will begin broadcasting an exclusively digital signal and cease broadcasting in analog.

According to a 2007 Ohio Association of Broadcasters survey, this means more than 720,000 Ohio households - including seniors - may turn their TV on to find nothing but static.

Federal law requires the switch, which will free up the airwaves for police, fire and emergency rescue communications. The switch will also allow broadcasters to programming with better picture and sound quality and offer more programming choices, and allow for advanced wireless services for consumers.

To make sure that all Ohioans are prepared for digital conversion, the State of Ohio is encouraging Ohioans to assist their neighbors, family members and friends who are in need of assistance to ensure they will continue to have access to a vital source of local information, weather updates and emergency bulletins.

What consumers have to do to prepare for this transition depends on how they currently receive television programming. The DTV transition will affect each consumer differently.

* If consumers currently subscribe to cable or satellite television service, they are already prepared for the DTV transition.

*If consumers have purchased a new television in the last two-three years, odds are it includes a digital tuner and it's ready for the switch. Check the owner's manual or talk to the television retailer to be sure. (Televisions more than 10 years old are probably not digital.)

*If consumers have an analog TV with a roof-top antenna or "rabbit ears" on the set, they may have to purchase additional equipment or services to keep their shows coming.

Consumers have three options.

Option 1: Subscribe to cable or satellite. This is perhaps the easiest solution for many because, in most cases, the provider will handle installation and setup, and it is compatible with most existing television sets. The monthly subscription fee currently averages about $50 per month for basic service, according to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. In addition, there may be an installation charge, equipment costs or other fees. In the long run this might be the most expensive option, but for folks who can't afford a large single expense like a new television or aren't comfortable installing electronic equipment themselves, this may be a good way to go.

Option 2: Purchase a converter box. Consumers can continue to receive their TV signals with their existing television and antenna if they purchase a converter box. A digital-to-analog converter box is a devise that will convert the digital signals from a broadcast station to an analog format the television can display. Digital-to-analog converter boxes are available in store that sell electronics equipment and through various con-line mail order retailers.

The box will take the place of the TV's tuner and will work much the same way. A friend or family member may be able to help set up the converter box if an older consumer is not comfortable doing it himself. Converters are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $40 to $70 for a basic converter box, but consumers may need to buy a separate converter for each TV in the home and additional cables or adapters.

The federal government is offering each household up to two, free $40 coupons to offset the costs. The number of coupons available is limited and applications for coupons must be received by March 31, 2009. (Coupons expire 90 days after mailing).

Coupons may be requested by calling: 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009)or visiting www.dtv2009.gov for details.

Option 3: Purchase a new TV. All new television sets sold today are required to include a digital tuner. This option has a large initial cost, with sets in popular sizes ranging from $400 to $3,000 and may be out of reach for seniors on a tight budget, but it can be cheaper in the long run than subscribing to cable or satellite services.

A high-definition (HDTV) set is not necessary. Standard or enhanced definition sets will save money and provide the technology needed to receive the digital signal.

A copy of much of the above information is available at the Barnesville Hutton Memorial Library, Barnesville Senior Center and the Barnesville Water Department office.