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US Digital Transition coming into focus

Washington, D.C. -- We’re almost exactly 15 months away from the most audacious technology migration in modern US history -a one day”flash cut” of the way in which Americans receive their free, over-the-air television signals. Elected and appointed officials here in Washington are picking up the pace in an effort to ensure that the transition goes smoothly -- a goal that will be achieved if all households who want to continue to receive free over-the-air broadcasting can do so on the day after the transition. Let’s get to the most important developments first. It appears that the vendor responsible for issuing $40 government-issued coupons toward the purchase of analog-to-digital set top converter boxes will begin mailing those coupons around April 1, 2008. Households that have TVs currently receiving free over-the-air analog signals, and who want to continue to use those TVs post-transition, may want to consider applying for and obtaining up to two coupons, which will pay for the majority of the cost of a digital set top converter box (retail: $50-$70) that you’ll attach to your old analog TV. Households will likely be able to apply for coupons before April 1, 2008 -maybe as soon as January 2008 (more details on how to do that will be forthcoming). The federal government will keep the coupon application process open throughout 2008 and into the first part of 2009. I’ve previously written about the benefits of the digital switch for consumers and the choices that consumers will need to make here.While the details about the process are firming up, will there be converter boxes available? Yes. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has already certified the first two set top converter boxes to participate in the program. The first two boxes are manufactured by Digital Stream Technology, Inc., but NTIA officials say that additional boxes from other companies are in line to be certified soon. That’s good news for consumers, who will have a choice of boxes and manufacturers.Even better, most of the large national chains have announced their intent to participate in the retailer program, accepting the government-issued coupons. Executives from Radio Shack, Best Buy, Circuit City, Target and WalMart have all advised Washington officials of their intent to participate. Participation by these major chains is enormously important to ensuring that consumers have easy access to boxes and a way to redeem their coupons. You can find more information about the converter box program at NTIA’s website. This website includes a short quiz that will help you decide what you need to do to get ready for the digital transition. Even more information about the transition is also available from the Federal Communications Commission. In fact, the FCC’s site has a very educational test you can take to become a certified”DTV Deputy,” able to explain the DTV transition to your family and friends. I took the quiz and got my certificate! You should, too! And even more information is available from a coalition representing private industry .Check out these sites and start learning about the digital transition!

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