Digital TV Converter Boxes To Be Ready By February 18

Washington (DC) - Digital converters for the massive broadcasting change happening next year should be available in less than a month, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA said that approved devices will be on store shelves no later than February 18. The converter boxes will take a digital TV signal and change it to a signal that older TV sets can recognize.

On February 17, 2009, all broadcasters must submit transmissions exclusively through digital signals. Consumers who own a TV with a built-in digital tuner or a cable/satellite box will not notice any difference. However, the millions of people still relying on an antenna will need a converter box.

The NTIA opened up a program this year to allow residents to apply for two coupons, each of which will be redeemable for $40 off a digital converter. The agency says it has already received requests for nearly four million coupons.

Several groups, including local representatives, governmental agencies and broadcasters, fear there is a large chance of widespread confusion and frustration when the switch-over occurs in 2009. They are encouraging companies and organizations involved to better educate consumers on exactly what will happen and who actually needs a converter box. Echostar and DirecTV, meanwhile, have voiced caution over the possibility of there not being enough set-top boxes to go around, leaving some viewers in the dark.

Over 14,000 retail stores in addition to online outlets are expected to sell the converter boxes.