Shimkus reminds: Digital television coming soon

</element><element id="paragraph-1" type="body"><![CDATA[U.S. Rep. John Shimkus is trying to get the word out about the coming switch to digital television signals and the need for converters.

On Feb. 17, 2009, television stations will stop sending their old analog broadcast signals and rabbit ears or house antennae will be rendered useless - which means big changes for people who don't subscribe to cable or satellite television service.

"If you are a citizen who receives a broadcast signal on Feb. 17, you will no longer be able to use that signal," Shimkus said at a news conference held Monday morning at his Harrisburg district office.

Newer televisions can convert the digital signal without help, but people with older sets will need a digital converter box before the change. People whose televisions don't have a "digital input" or that weren't made recently likely will need a converter box.

However, converter boxes are readily available from retail outlets that sell electronics, Shimkus said. There are more outlets for digital converter boxes than McDonalds franchises, Brian Danza of the Department of Commerce said. Coupons for $40 toward the purchase of a converter box are available from the Department of Commerce, Shimkus said. People may send off for the coupon, then take it to any retailer who sells converter boxes to get $40 off the purchase of up to two boxes.

"Many of them, the most inexpensive ones, are right around $45 to $49," Shimkus said.

Shimkus recently got one of the inexpensive boxes and said it works fine.

Once a coupon is received, people only have 90 days to redeem it with a retailer, Shimkus said.

"Don't procrastinate once you get this," Shimkus said.

The purpose of the law was to provide a clearer signal for first responders and emergency personnel, Shimkus said. Some of the old analog signals will be set aside for emergency agencies, Shimkus said. Some of the analog signals will be auctioned to help pay for grants to the first responders and to pay for the program to assist consumers with purchase of digital converter boxes.

Another advantage is clearer television signals for consumers. Shimkus hopes the new digital signals will give local stations an incentive to put more channels on the public airwaves.

"Not only will your signal be better, you will get more channels," Shimkus said.

So far, the Department of Commerce has taken orders for 21.5 million converter box coupons; 20 million coupons have been sent out and 7 million coupons have been redeemed, Danza said.

Shimkus hopes as many people as possible know about the change before Feb. 17.

"There are going to be people who don't know. There are going to be people who turn on their TV on Feb. 17 and don't get a signal. But as a congressman, I want to get the word out as much as possible," Shimkus said.