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Shoppers are snapping up converter boxes

Local stores are having a tough time keeping digital TV converter boxes on the shelves, and the first government coupons issued are about to expire.

With just over 250 days left until the digital switchover at midnight Feb. 17, 2009, people should start shopping now.

“We’re having trouble keeping them in stock,” said Tyler Johnson, a salesman at Best Buy. “Everyone in town is.”

The Janesville Gazette visited four major retailers earlier this week, and only one had any boxes in stock—a shipment that had arrived just a few days before.

Consumers Having Problems with Digital TV Converter Coupons

Consumers Union is calling on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Congress to address the problem of the 90-day expiration date on the government-issued coupons that help consumers buy digital converter boxes.

Currently, the $40 government coupons expire 90 days after issue, with no option of replacement or reissue.

It's just the latest of a string of problems and missteps in the decade-long attempt to move television broadcasters to a different frequency band.

Do you need a digital converter box for your TV?

On Feb. 17, 2009, major U.S. television stations will stop broadcasting analog signals and send only digital transmissions. Some questions and answers about the transition:

_ Why is this happening?

Stopping the analog broadcasts will free up a huge amount of airwaves. The government has auctioned off some of them for use by wireless broadband and cell-phone TV. There's also a drive to use some of the spectrum for a network that can be used in emergency situations by public safety officials.

_ Do I need a digital converter box?

Digital TV converter boxes available

More than 10 million consumers already have requested $40 coupons from the federal government to help them make the transition when television broadcasts will switch from analog to digital on Feb. 17, 2009.

The coupons arrive in the mail in the form of red gift cards. I got mine a few weeks ago, along with a list of retailers in my area that sell the converter boxes. I'll need to use it before it expires in 90 days.

In the Seattle area, here's a sample of what you can buy:

Digital Stream DTX9900 Digital- to-Analog Converter Box, $59.99, Radio Shack

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