This February 17 (or June, if Obama gets his extension passed), America will undergo a mandatory conversion from analog to digital for our TV sets. Do you care and should you?
If you have a set that's not connected to cable or satellite and rely on over-the-air television, you will need a converter. And these babies can run $50-$70. If you give a hoot about the environment, then you'll care about this: the number of toxic, old sets about to be dumped into landfills is daunting.
Some Hollywood programming execs are certainly sweating it, especially since the government "reached its funding ceiling" for the TV Converter Box Coupon Program. Consumers applying for coupons must wait for funds from expired, unused ones.
PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger calls this "inexcusable." Speaking at the January Television Critics Press Tour, an emphatic Kerger said, "When people are making very hard economic choices in their households, and many are choosing free over-the-air television and closing their cable accounts because they cannot afford to keep them, I think we need to make sure that every household that can be connected to a box is connected to a box."
The conversion implications run deep. Nielsen Media Research estimates 6.5 million households, representing 5.7% of homes with television, are unprepared for the switch. And Kerger believes these numbers are "grossly underestimated."
"Because of the economics, people have deferred the decision to buy a new television set," Kerger added. And since PBS is home to "Sesame Street," (the newly reborn) "Electric Company" and a host of educational programming, the chief is especially concerned about the kids. "Particularly children in lower income households. A lot of untethered [unattached to cable or satellite] sets are [ones] that kids use to watch television."
Obama to the rescue -- after calling for a delay, the Senate recently voted to move the conversion to June. Plus Obama's stimulus package includes $650 million to help replenish the coupon program.
This is important news, especially if Hawaii is the litmus-test state -- in early January, they were first to go all-digital, and with an estimated 20,000 sets needing tuners, glitches were inevitable. Minutes after the switch, the statewide customer support center phones were jammed; since then hundreds of calls pour in daily.
If you're facing the conversion dilemma, apply your green ethics. Don't dump your antennae TV unless you can find a credible recycling facility. Better yet, save your old TV and get a converter, since today's sets eat up 10% of the average household's energy bill.
But if you must go new, the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests the following steps:
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.