Tom Carr 2/23/09
We have four extra months now to buy those converter boxes being touted by the horizontally scrolling reminders on our TV screens. The deadline was supposed to be this week. Congress delayed it to June 12, as one in 20 homes has yet to buy the electronic box that will transform an analog set into a digital television.
Locally, viewers will be able to procrastinate no matter which programs they like. The station in the designated Traverse City/Cadillac market have all opted to wait until the new deadline to go completely digital, though about 500 stations throughout the country stopped analog transmission on or around Feb. 17, the first deadline.
The word analog itself almost conjures images of dust-covered vacuum tubes. Its the way our parents and grandparents watched The Honeymooners. Still, its always been there, free and through the airwaves, even though the majority of people have cable or satellite these days.
Yet 17.3 percent of homes in the Traverse City/Cadillac TV market still get their viewing without a paid subscription. Thats above the national average of 11 percent, says Nielsen Media research.
So will it leave a bunch of viewers, particularly rural ones, disconnected if they dont get that box? Or is it just a reminder that we need to keep getting the gadgets if we want to stay connected?
People have so far redeemed 22.6 million of the $40 coupons sent out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to help with the cost of the devices that start at around $50.
Nielsen says 5.1 percent of the country is still unprepared this month.
Gail Roberts of Kingsley is one of them. She has what her father jokingly calls Amish TV, an analog set that receives two stations reliably. Thats plenty to bring in the school closings she wants to hear in the morning. The family has dial-up Internet, because they can still get it for $10 a month, so they dont spend a lot of time surfing.
She doesnt know what the future holds for her preferred sources of news the daily newspaper and National Public Radio particularly with the fact that the states two largest newspapers plan to cease seven-day delivery.
Roberts has the coupon for the converter box, but hasnt felt compelled to buy it yet and doesnt know if she will any time soon.
The first time I take the kids out to get on the bus and it doesnt arrive, then Ill probably get a faster Internet connection, she said.
People Ive chatted with have said theyre concerned that the changes will leave older people in the lurch.
Yet Nielsen reports that the homes headed by someone under 35 are less prepared (8.6 percent unready) than those in the 55-and-over group (3.2 percent).
The younger group may have less disposable income than the older group, said Anne Elliot, a Nielsen spokeswoman. They can only speculate, since asking peoples reasons for their viewing habits might influence their behavior, she said.
They may also be relying on the Internet more, she added. They might even be watching their favorite shows on network Web sites or services like Hulu.
Those are educated guesses. Nielsen doesnt ask peoples reasons, since that might influence their behavior, Elliot said.
Retirees who frequent the Traverse City Senior Center havent been talking much about it at all, director Lori Wells said.
Most of them have satellite or cable, she said.
Tom Carr is a freelance writer who uses a converter box.