February 12, 2009

Hazen, Beulah not yet ready for digital television transition

Feb. 17: The long-touted date of the rabbit-ears apocalypse.

It was the date all full-power television stations nationwide must be converted from analog to digital broadcasting, as required by the Federal Communications Commission – until a recent federal bill provided stations a voluntary June 12 extension. Reports read a $1.3 billion fund for coupons for consumers to buy converter boxes had run dry, leaving some 3.7 million consumers nationwide without.

TVs already plugged into cable or satellite and new televisions are not at risk, which encompasses 89 percent of the households with TVs in western North Dakota. The remaining 11 percent of households use an antenna and fall into one of two categories.

Households were allowed up to two $40 coupons to purchase converter boxes, which cost from $40-80, in preparation for the switch. Consumers can log onto www.DTV2009.gov to put their name on a waiting list.

Pamida in Beulah has sold over 50 converter boxes since December, Pamida Manager Dave Ripplinger said, but sales have been slowing as of late. Of those sales, about 98 percent have been with the government-issued $40 coupon. The coupon reduces the unit price to $9.99

Despite the extension, several North Dakota TV stations are staying with the Feb. 17 course. And the communities of Hazen and Beulah aren’t yet ready.

Hazen received a grant late last year from the North Dakota Department of Commerce for $3,000, using $1,000 for each local channel – to install the necessary equipment to take a digital TV signal and rebroadcast it in analog. NBC’s KFYR Channel 5 is currently broadcast in digital. If the rebroadcast works, the equipment would be ordered for CBS’ KXMC, Minot, and Prairie Public, Hazen City Planner Steve Frovarp said.

The Weather Network