By now, most consumers are aware that some kind of switch is set for February that has to do with their televisions and digital signals...
By now, most consumers are aware that some kind of switch is set for February that has to do with their televisions and digital signals.
But after that, degrees of knowledge vary wildly.
Consider Ann Thompson, who lives with her mother in Blue Springs, Mo. Thompson was caught up in the confusion about the difference between digital TV signals and high-definition TV sets.
But more than anything, Thompson, who works at a law firm, wanted to make sure she and her mom aren’t going to be misled by businesses seeking to sell TV products to people who may not be up to speed on the nuances of the digital age.
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Then there’s Kathlene Hawkins, who lives in downtown Kansas City. Hawkins bought a new TV in February that has a digital tuner and now has better reception than ever.
The “switch” is a government-mandated change in the way television programming is transmitted — from analog signals, which have been in use since the beginning of television, to digital technology.
Testing is to begin in September in Wilmington, N.C., with the rollout to the rest of the nation set for Feb. 17.
How do you know if you need to do anything by mid-February?
First, if you have cable or satellite service and all the televisions in your home are hooked up to the service, your household should be good to go.
But for the approximately 14 million households that have analog-tuner TVs that rely on rabbit ears or rooftop antennas, planning is necessary.
To ease the transition, Congress carved out $1.5 billion to provide $40 coupons for consumers to use toward the purchase of converter boxes. The boxes convert signals from digital to analog for compatibility with older, analog-tuner TVs.
Consumers can apply for the coupons through March 31.
As of April 15, 10 million applications for coupons had been processed. The Consumer Electronics Association projects that 22 million to 28 million converters will be needed for the transition.
The coupons can be redeemed for basic converters, but not fancier boxes. The converters are sold at most retailers that sell home electronics, including Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack and Wal-Mart. They’re also being sold online on eBay and other sites.
Most converters start at around $50. Consumers can use only one coupon per box.
When shopping, don’t assume the salesclerk at the electronics store is knowledgeable and providing accurate information about the transition to digital.
A report in February from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that many retailers and their sales staff lacked knowledge about the switch and dealing with it.
Among the findings:
• 81 percent of retail sales staffers provided inaccurate information about converter boxes.
• 78 percent provided inaccurate information about the coupon program.
• 20 percent tried to upsell surveyors to digital TVs or upscale converter boxes.
“To consumers, it does not matter whether salesclerks were intentionally misleading our secret shoppers to sell more expensive items, or if they were simply misinformed,” said U.S. PIRG staff attorney John Krieger.
“The result is the same: Consumers will pay too much for unneeded equipment or services.”
Time Warner Cable is working to inform consumers.
“The big message is, we don’t want people to wait until the last minute, because then they could be stuck without television service,” said Time Warner Cable’s Damon Porter.