Tri-Cities viewers readying for switch to digital TV

Rick Wagner • Dec 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

When it comes to digital television converter boxes, folks in the greater Tri-Cities who rely on over-the-air TV signals apparently aren’t taking any chances.

Federal government data as of Dec. 14 indicates 101 percent of self-identified over-the-air TV users in the Tri-Cities, Tenn.-Va., area have applied for a free $40 converter coupon.

The percentage exceeded 100 because the applicants are compared to The Nielsen Co. statistics showing over-the-air households in the Tri-Cities of about 24,500.

“That’s what they’ve reported to us,” said Todd Sedmak, spokesman for the federal TV coupon program in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In contrast, almost seven in 10 over-the-air users in the Nashville area have requested one of the free coupons online or by phone.

According to data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), more than 225,300 households in Tennessee that rely on an antenna for broadcast TV have requested coupons from the TV Converter Box Coupon Program.

The Tri-Cities, Tenn.-Va., area leads the way with 101 percent of over-the-air households requesting the coupons.

Chattanooga came in at 98 percent, Jackson 92 percent, Knoxville 86 percent, Memphis 80 percent, and Nashville 68 percent.

The agency Thursday urged consumers who need a TV converter box coupon to apply by the end of the year.

Sedmak said over-the-air viewers should apply before year’s end or risk not having one in time for the transition. The coupons will be available until March 31 or when supplies run out, he said.

The Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 requires full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasts and switch to digital after Feb. 17.

The act authorized the NTIA to create the TV Converter Box Coupon Program, which is funded by the $19 billion airwaves auction, not tax dollars. The act funded the program at $1.5 billion, including $1.34 billion for coupons.

NTIA so far has obligated $1.1 billion in coupons. This obligation is a combination of coupons redeemed and coupons that have been ordered.

Digital broadcast television offers consumers a clearer picture, more programming choices, and will free up the airwaves for better communications among emergency first responders and new telecommunications services, according to the NTIA.

Options for over-the-air consumers are to connect their television to cable, satellite or other pay-television service; replace it with a digital TV; or keep it working with a TV converter box or other device with a digital tuner.

The coupon program permits all households to request up to two coupons good toward the purchase of certified converter boxes. Coupon applications can take several weeks to process and mail.

Only one coupon can be used to purchase each coupon-eligible converter box. Other devices that include a digital tuner, such as a television or DVD recorder, are not eligible for the $40 coupon redemption.

Consumers will receive a list of eligible converter boxes and participating retailers with their coupons. Converter boxes generally cost between $40 and $80, and coupons expire 90 days from the date they are mailed.

Viewers of programs over translators or other low-power stations that may continue broadcasting analog signals after Feb. 17 may consider a converter box that will pass through analog signals.

Households may apply for coupons online at www.DTV2009.gov, by phone at (888) 388-2009, or by mail at P.O. Box 2000, Portland, Ore. 97208-2000.

Deaf or hard-of-hearing callers may dial (877) 530-2634 for English TTY or (866) 495-1161 for Spanish TTY.

For more information visit www.dtv.gov.

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