The transition to digital TV is not going as smoothly as some had hoped, according to some government agencies that testified to Congress earlier this week.
A report issued by the Government Accountability Office showed that nearly half of the households that could lose TV service after the transition to digital broadcasting are still unprepared for the switch.
About 84 percent of consumers were aware of the transition, but many didn't know what they had to make sure their TV service wasn't interrupted, the GAO report said. More than half of those surveyed said they were aware of the government's voucher program to subsidize the cost of converter boxes that are needed to view digital TV on older analog TVs. But about two-thirds of those people didn't know how to get a coupon.
Even consumers who won't be affected by the switch were confused, The Washington Post reported. Roughly 30 percent of those who don't actually need a converter box said they were getting ready for the transition.
The confusion is occurring despite broadcasters and cable operators airing public awareness campaigns on TV.
The vouchers, which cover $40 of the cost of the converter boxes, started being sent in February. But they expire after 90 days. The agency overseeing the program reported that more than 40 percent of the 800,000 vouchers that have already been sent out have not been redeemed. And the agency doesn't have enough money to pay for the postage to resend these vouchers.
In February 2009, TV broadcasters will vacate wireless spectrum used to broadcast analog TV signals. Instead, broadcasters will transmit digital TV signals, which use spectrum more efficiently and provide better picture quality. The transition to digital means that some older TVs, and TVs with analog-only tuners, will have to be retrofitted to tune into digital signals.
Preparation for the switch to digital TV is being closely watched since some older TVs that have not been retrofitted won't work after the analog signals stop broadcasting.
Many of the 70 million or so analog TV sets that rely on over-the-air signals belong to minorities, senior citizens, low-income individuals, and people who live in rural areas. The fear is that these individuals will not be ready for when broadcasters stop transmitting analog TV signals in February 2009.