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Viewers confused on shift to DTV

January 31, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — 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.

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