Viewers confused on shift to DTV

From the Associated Press

Much of what consumers are learning about the looming shift to digital broadcasting is just plain wrong and could end up costing them money, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Some people think they need to buy new equipment when they don’t, according to a Consumers Union survey, and others say they don’t plan on taking any steps to deal with the change when they should.

“Confusion about the digital television transition will cost consumers a lot of money for equipment they may not want or need,” Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for the Consumers Union, said Wednesday.

On Feb. 18, 2009, full-power television stations in the U.S. will turn off their old-technology analog signals and broadcast only in a digital format, potentially leaving millions of televisions displaying nothing but snow.


Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, said 36% of respondents in its survey were unaware of the transition -- a big number, but much lower than what has been reported in studies from a year ago.

The great majority of consumers -- anyone whose television is hooked up to a cable or satellite service or owns a digital set -- will not be affected. Anyone who owns an older television that gets its signal via antenna, however, will need a converter box, which the government will help pay for.

As of last month, Nielsen Co. reported that 13.5 million television households, or about 12%, rely on over-the-air TV broadcasts for programming.

Among those consumers who are aware of the transition, many believe all televisions will need a converter box to function, 48% believe that only digital televisions will work after 2009 and 24% believe they will need to throw away all of their analog television sets.

None of these presumptions is true.

The government has allocated $1.5 billion to pay for coupons that will subsidize the cost of converter boxes.

More Americans are becoming aware of the transition, but 73% of those surveyed were unaware of the government coupon program, according to the Consumers Union survey.

Each household is eligible for two coupons, regardless of whether they have pay-television service. Consumers can apply online at or call the 24-hour hotline, (888) 388-2009.