By Starrla Cray
Two weeks before the expected switch from digital to analog television signals, the House voted 264-158 to delay the transition to June 12, instead of Feb. 17, which means TV viewers in Wright and Meeker Counties can hang on to analog for four more months.
Nicole Tupa of Cokato and her family have four analog TVs. Like the 13.4 million analog TV households in the US who rely on over-the-air broadcasts, Tupa had to purchase converter boxes in order to continue to receive signals.
“I got my last two on sale at Target for $45,” Tupa said. From Jan. 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009, each household is eligible to receive two $40 coupons from the federal government to defray the cost of the converter boxes. With her coupons, Tupa paid $5 for each. “They’re not too expensive.”
Lester Prairie resident Peter Madsen’s and his family haven’t purchased a converter box yet, but they do have a coupon.
“We just haven’t gotten around to it,” he said in an interview before the transition date was changed. “We’re kind of slow going. If we don’t have one by February, we’ll just go without TV for awhile.”
Even though the change is not mandatory until June, the bill states that TV stations can opt to go digital sooner, if they have FCC approval. The bill doesn’t, however, include additional funding for the coupon program, which has reached its funding limit. Currently, about 3 million people are on a waiting list for the coupons, stated an MSNBC article. President Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package is expected to drop about $650 million into the program.
According to the Consumer Report web site, “Your television has an analog tuner, also called an NTSC tuner, if it is a picture-tube TV bought before 1998, a smaller LCD set (15- to 18-inch screen), or is a set that was sold as HD-ready.”
Digital, or ATSC tuners, are usually 25-inch or larger sets bought after 2005. To see if a TV has a digital tuner, Consumer Reports advises checking the instruction manual or looking for a menu function on the TV to scan for digital channels.
As of March 1, 2007, all new TVs were required to come with digital tuners (www.dtv.gov.)
Tammy Schaust’s family, of Delano, subscribes to cable television, so she hasn’t purchased a converter box. Because cable companies must carry both analog and digital signals until 2012, analog TVs with cable service will continue to receive broadcasting.
In 2005, the federal government approved the digital transition so that airwaves would be opened up for emergency purposes and TV stations could give more programming.
However, cable companies as well as TV sales and manufacturing companies may profit, according to a report from the Consumer’s Union.
“Cable companies have an incentive to encourage non-subscribers to purchase their services, and to upgrade current subscribers to digital cable,” the report stated. Retailers may try to sell high-end HDTVs, having “little incentive to inform consumers that their analog sets will continue to receive digital broadcasts just fine, as long as they have a converter box.”
“I can understand why they’re doing it, but I think it’s another way to get people to buy cable,” Schaust said. Although she likes cable because of the educational programs for her children, Schaust said the price is higher than it should be.
“Our cable bill keeps going up,” she said. “Last month it went up another $15. I cringe every time it comes. It makes you start evaluating if you really need it.”
“We don’t watch enough TV to justify that cable bill,” Tupa said. She is happy with the additional programming that the converter boxes have allowed her TVs to receive.
“We get more channels that with analog,” Tupa said. “The channels come in really clear now, too.”
On average, Americans have 2.6 TVs in their house, according to www.consumerreports.org. Some people may choose to dispose of an old TV instead of purchasing a converter box, but because older TV monitors can contain lead and toxic plastics, people are encouraged to take TVs to a recycling center.
In McLeod County, unwanted TVs can be taken to CreekSide in Hutchinson; (320) 234-5642, or Spruce Ridge Landfill in Glencoe; (320) 864-5503.
People in Wright County can go to the Wright County Compost and Recycling Facility; (763) 682-7338.
Analog TV choices
From the McLeod Social Service Center
People who watch free over-the-air television (through a roof-top antenna or “rabbit ears”) must take action before June 12, 2009. To be ready, people have three choices:
1) Connect your analog TV to a digital-to-analog converter box
2) Buy a digital television (a TV with a built-in digital tuner - you do not need a High Definition TV (HDTV) to watch digital broadcast television)
3) Subscribe to a paid TV service such as cable or satellite TV