Michigan leaders hope public is ready for digital television switch

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

At this point, nearly everyone has heard about the nation-wide switch to digital television, but that doesn't mean everyone is prepared.

Analog signals won't end until February 17, 2009; but in Michigan, leaders are trying to get everyone into the digital age as soon as possible.

"I heard we might possibly have to get new TVs or at least new cable systems or something… and you know I’m not too familiar what's going on," said John Brandt, laughing as he stood outside the Best Buy in Benton Harbor.

Best Buy says that's often what they hear from people walking in their doors. Customers flock in after hearing about the switch, whether through public service announcements on television, or by word of mouth.

At Best Buy, they've trained employees to help customers with questions about converter boxes, which the customer will need if they want to continue to use their analog TV's with an antenna.

The government issues $40 vouchers (2 per household) to cover part of the costs of the converters.

"Some people come in with the misunderstanding that if they have cable or satellite they're going to need it, which they don't. If you have cable or satellite, there's no need for that digital box," said Saul Shafer, the Best Buy Operations Manager.

According to the Michigan Broadcaster’s Association, in a recent survey of 1200 people, every Michigan resident knew about the change, but only about half had prepared for it.

"No matter how many PSA's we run, some people just aren't going to get it,” said Karole While, President and CEO of the MBA.

"This is the largest technological change that we've been able to find in history, because as a rule, the old technology continues until the market decides that it's no longer interested…" White said.

That’s not the case here, since the digital switch is federally mandated, in response to recommendations from the 9-11 commission.

Congressman Fred Upton actually co-authored the bill for the switch.

"We saw it in new York where fire fighters did not get the call to evacuate those buildings. We saw it again with Katrina where the coast guard could not literally communicate with the folks on the ground, because of the devices that they had and the need they had for more channels for broadcast communication,” Upton said.

If the switch goes as planned, it should clear those channels up, and clear up the picture for viewers.

"Hopefully, it's a win win for everybody," Upton said.

Some of the old analog channels will be used by emergency response crews to improve communication.

Meanwhile, Upton says other frequencies will be sold by the government that could bring in as much as $20 million. He says in addition to covering the $1.5 billion they plan to spend on the converter vouchers; that will also help pay for communications devices for emergency responders, and bring down the deficit.

White says it’s likely wireless communications companies will purchase the remaining channels.

Again, you will need a converter if you've got an analog TV and use an antenna for your television service.

You may also need to update your equipment if you use cable or satellite with your analog TV. The DTV website recommends you contact your provider to see what you will need, and when you will need it.

Analog sets are no longer sold in retail stores

To request vouchers, and get any of your questions answered, call 1-888-DTV-2009, or visit the website below.

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