On March 4th, I ordered two coupons from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for $40 each towards the purchase of two digital converter boxes to pick-up broadcast signals.
In case you've been living under a rock (or just don't have a TV, in which case, you wouldn't care anyway), on February 17, 2009, all the full-power broadcast channels will have to switch to digital-only transmissions. Currently, most are broadcasting in both analog and digital, but the portion of the analog spectrum they use has been deemed by Congress necessary for other uses, among them communications systems for police and fire services. The National Association of Broadcasters has a website they have promoted on-air like crazy at www.dtvanswers.com, but the official government website where you must request the coupons is www.dtv2009.gov.
Now, there is currently controversy regarding the availability of low-power and translator stations, which are not being required to transition to digital quite as fast. Indeed, their trade association, the Community Broadcasters Association, has filed a lawsuit against the FCC arguing that manufacturers and sellers of converter boxes that do not pass through the analog signal, are violating a 1962 statute called the All-Channel Receiver Act.
I must admit I am not very familiar with the Low-Power TV community; it seems like most of the ones in the St. Louis area are affiliated with religious broadcasting networks. Within Missouri there are 100+ LPTV or translator stations, according to the FCC lookup site.
So if you do want to make sure you can receive all the stations, regardless of how they broadcast, it seems like the best option is to buy one of the converter boxes listed on another CBA website, KeepUsOn.com.
Anyway, we finally got our coupons (really they look like credit cards) on Saturday, almost two months after making an online request. And of course, they must have been mailed a couple weeks ago from the processing center in Oregon, because they expire in less than the 90 days they are supposed to be good for (on July 16th).
NTIA is an obscure, yet powerful agency. I was mainly familiar with them in the past for their administration of a Clinton-era grant program my old employer considered applying for called the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP). We never got that grant, but our friends at The Youth and Family Center on N. 20th did, and developed an interesting and innovative initiative called St Louis WizKids.