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FCC Details Availability of Digital TV Converters

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has announced some details of how the coupon program will work. Starting January 1, 2008, users will be able to visit DTV2009.gov, a site that is currently inactive, to request two coupons each valid for $40 off a converter box.

The program will run through March 31, 2009. On February 17, 2009, all broadcasters will be forced to turn off analog TV signals making old-school antennas worthless. Estimates of the number of households still relying on the old reception technology range from 13 million to 21 million.

The FCC says over 100 retail chains have been "certified" to sell the boxes, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Target, Sears, and Radio Shack.

"We have nationwide coverage with over 14,000 brick and mortar stores involved as well as with online participation," said Meredith Baker, an administrator at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration who is overseeing the program.

LG and Magnavox are two of the first companies to receive government approval for their digital converter boxes. They are expected to be priced at around $40 - $60. The government has set aside $1.5 billion to accommodate the cost of the coupons.

Despite early talks to limit the coupons to low-income households, the government will send out a $40 off voucher to anyone with a TV that will be affected by the digital conversion.

Several groups, including local representatives, governmental agencies and broadcasters, fear there is a large chance of widespread confusion and frustration when the switch-over occurs in 2009. They are encouraging companies and organizations involved to better educate consumers on exactly what will happen and who actually needs a converter box. Some media announcements give a false impression that consumers will need an HDTV, when all that is needed is a digital tuner or digital cable. Many retailers including Best Buy have already begun selling only TVs with digital tuners.

"What we’re doing is what Congress has told us to do and we’re on target," said Baker.