By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Digital TV Conversion: Ready For Prime Time
Placeholder Image
Starting later this year the television we grew up with begins fading to black.

As analog TV broadcasts make the switch to digital format, millions of older and low-income Americans may find themselves left in the dark.

Older individuals are more likely to receive their broadcasts free via an antenna, and they are more likely to own analog television sets. Forty percent of the approximately 20 million analog-only households include individuals who are 50 and older, the most dedicated viewing audience. Americans age 50-plus watch the most hours of television per day, almost 5.5 hours on average.

These two conditions will give "black box" a new meaning, unless individuals take the right steps.

Although word about the switchover is getting out, confusion still reigns.

Just knowing the shift is coming is not enough; everyone needs to know what to do. A good place to start is the DTV Call Center, 1-877-698-8068, where consumers can get help with their questions about the conversion. The Call Center is available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST.

All of us have a responsibility to make the digital television transition easy for older individuals - and for every American.

To stay tuned in after the changeover, consumers who depend upon roof-top or rabbit-ear antennas must do one of three things: buy and install a $40 to $70 converter box on their old sets; or connect their sets to a cable or satellite system; purchase a new television with a built-in DTV [digital television] tuner. To help reduce the cost, the federal government is offering up to two $40 coupons per household toward the purchase of converter boxes. Unfortunately, coupons have run out, so there is now a waiting list.

For older folks, any of these steps can prove confusing and challenging.

They are left wondering: What do I do if I don't have a coupon yet? Where do I go to get a converter box? How do I install it? How do I know if my set already has a DTV tuner? How do I get a new set home? How do I move out the old set?

AARP has been working hard with government, with the telecommunications industry, and with community and aging organizations to fill in the information gaps, but there is a great deal left for each of us to do. We haven't a moment to lose.

For many older people, television is their main connection to the outside world. It is their link to news and to vital weather and safety information. They cannot afford to have this lifeline severed.

If Americans don't get the information they need about the conversion, they could be vulnerable to high-pressure sales pitches and misguided conventional wisdom. Some salespeople are just as confused as their customers. For the unscrupulous few, the environment is ripe for mischief, and information is the antidote.

Americans need to know that they do not have to subscribe to cable or satellite to continue to watch television after the conversion. They need to know that their existing television set can still work if they purchase and install a converter box; they don't need to buy a high-definition set. They need to know that if they decide to hang onto their rabbit ears, the government will help pay for a converter.

Getting the information out and helping our older population cope with the biggest change in television since color is a responsibility AARP takes seriously. But we cannot do it alone.

Each of us can help by checking our own sets and by lending a hand to our relatives and neighbors (particularly if they are older).

Talk to family and friends to make sure they are aware the transition is coming and that they can get information or request coupons by calling the DTV call center. We encourage each of you to join us in this worthwhile effort.

It's going to take all of us working together to get this conversion ready for prime time.

Jeannine English is President of the California State AARP, American Association of Retired Persons.