Retailers will begin selling equipment to allow the owners of analog television sets to continue to watch over-the-airwaves broadcasts after the nationwide switch to digital broadcasting in 2009, the government said Tuesday.
Starting Jan. 1, 13 million to 21 million households that rely on an antenna to watch TV can contact the government to receive two coupons worth $40 each to buy converter boxes. The $1.5-billion program will end March 31, 2009. The devices, which translate the digital signal for such TV sets, will hit store shelves in mid-February.
Retail chains planning to sell them include Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Target, Sears, Kmart and RadioShack.
“Over 100 retailers have been certified including a variety of small stores, retail chains and these very large retailers,” said Meredith Baker, who is acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is overseeing the coupon program.
“We have nationwide coverage with over 14,000 brick-and-mortar stores involved as well as with online participation,” she added.
Baker said the $1.5 billion should be enough to cover all affected households.
Several companies, including Digital Stream Technology Inc., LG Electronics Inc. and Royal Philips Electronics’ Magnavox and Philco units, have manufactured converter boxes that have been approved by the government. Baker’s agency is expected to certify several more devices in the next few weeks.
The nation’s broadcasters on Feb. 17, 2009, will turn off their analog over-the-air broadcasts. Cable and satellite TV providers said they would ensure that their subscribers continue to view programming after the switch.
However, Congress has criticized the government for not having a comprehensive plan to ensure a smooth transition to digital TV.
The Government Accountability Office said Tuesday that the telecommunications administration, the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies had made progress in consumer outreach but that challenges still remained.
Several organizations have said they were concerned that many people, particularly the elderly, the poor and minorities, would be caught off guard when the change occurs.
Tuesday’s GAO report also said there was uncertainty regarding retailers’ readiness and participation in the converter-box coupon program.
Starting Jan. 1, people can apply for coupons by calling (888) 388-2009 or going to www.dtv2009.gov.