Starting Feb. 17, 2009, classroom and household televisions across the country that rely on free over-the-air programming are likely to see nothing but snow on their screens—and adjusting the “rabbit ears” won’t help. Under the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, U.S. broadcasters are to cease analog programming and move entirely to digital broadcasting on that day. Only analog televisions that use roof-top antennas or set-top rabbit ears and do not have cable or satellite service will be affected, says the Federal Communications Commission.
Most schools have a cable or satellite provider, and therefore will not need to replace their television sets, says Todd Sedmak, a spokesman for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
However, schools using analog TVs that rely on free over-the-air programming will need to connect to a cable or satellite provider, buy a digital-to-analog converter box, or replace the analog TV set with one that has a digital tuner, he says.
Overall, the transition is seen as a “positive development,” says Rob M. Lippincott, the senior vice president of education for PBS.
“This is a great opportunity for educational programmers to address the needs of teachers,” he says, adding that the transition to digital broadcasting will increase the amount of programming available for use in the classroom.
Digital television offers viewers better sound and picture quality, as well as more channels, and eliminating analog programming should free up airwaves for public-safety communications and advanced commercial wireless services, according to the FCC.
“[This transition] is on the scale of Y2K,” says Tania Panczyk-Collins, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Association of Public Television Stations, referring to the computer-system adjustments that were needed for the arrival of the year 2000.
But she is quick to acknowledge that the mandated change hasn’t garnered the same amount of media and consumer attention that Y2K did.