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Digital TV Converters Goverment Giveaway Coupons
January 02, 2008
The federal government doesn't usually give things away, but starting Tuesday broadcast TV watchers can apply for a gift that could keep their sets from going dark in 2009.Via a toll-free hot line and Web site the Commerce Department will begin accepting applications for coupons worth $40 off a no-frills converter box to allow older televisions to receive digital broadcast signals.The $1.5 billion program is designed to help ease the major change coming on Feb. 17, 2009. That's when broadcast TV stations turn off their analog signals and start transmitting only in digital.The program -- the biggest change in broadcast TV since the advent of color -- will free up valuable airwaves for public safety agencies and for new wireless phone and Internet services. It will also deliver clearer pictures and additional broadcast channels for people who don't have pay-TV service.But some TV sets might have trouble making the technological leap. Ones without a built-in digital tuner will no longer be able to receive over-the-air signals unless owners obtain a special box to change the signals back to analog.Those boxes are expected to be available starting in February at more than 14,000 government-certified retail outlets, including Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. They will cost $59.95 to $69.95.Satellite and cable customers won't need converter boxes for TVs they have hooked up to those systems. But there are as many as 26 million households in the U.S. that only receive over-the-air TV -- and millions more that may want the option during emergencies or power outages when cable and satellite transmissions are down.The federal agency has contracted with IBM to run the program. They have set up a toll-free number, 888-DTV-2009, which, starting at 5 a.m. CST Tuesday, will be staffed by operators who can take requests in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and four other languages. Applications can also be filled out at . Each household is eligible for two coupons, regardless of whether it has cable or satellite service. After the first $890 million worth of coupons are distributed the federal government will allocate an additional $450 million in coupons, but only to households that rely on over-the-air signals. The rest of the program's $1.5 billion price tag is for administrative costs.While there is enough money for 33.5 million coupons, the National Association of Broadcasters has estimated there are as many as 70 million TVs hooked up to antennas, including extra sets in homes with cable or satellite. Many of those sets can receive only analog signals, although sales of high-definition TVs, which include digital tuners, have soared in the past two years.The federal law that mandates the digital conversion required the agency to start offering coupons Jan. 1. But officials are urging people to wait before applying. The coupons will expire 90 days after they are issued to assure they don't go unused.To apply by phone: 888-DTV-2009. The toll-free number offers interactive voice recognition or live operators who can take orders in English, French, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. There is a call-back option for people speaking 100 other languages.To apply by phone:Online:
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