If you're one of the 12 million-odd cable customers who still use an analog TV, you may soon need to either get a new TV or a converter box that can handle digital signals. That's because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to let cable operators shut off analog TV signals as of mid-December, forcing those with analog TVs to either get a converter or a new TV—or risk losing access to some local TV stations.
In a unanimous decision earlier this week, the FCC decided to let lapse the so-called "viewability order," a rule put in place back in 2007 when it was considering the country's planned analog-to-digital TV switchover in 2009. To ensure that analog TV owners wouldn't lose any "must-carry" broadcast stations, the FCC imposed a rule forcing cable companies that operated hybrid analog/digital systems to carry both types of signals for a period of three years, until June 12, 2012.
Though some groups—especially smaller stations that broadcast religious and/or minority-focused programming, which will be most affected by the decision—had petitioned the FCC for an extension, the FCC unanimously decided to allow the provisions to "sunset." But to help all the affected parties manage the transition, the FCC extended the sunset by an additional six months, requiring cable operators to continue providing analog signals to subscribers until December 12, 2012.
After that date, cable subscriber who are still using an analog TV will need to get a converter box, which the FCC says will be provide at either no or little cost to subscribers. If you're one of those affected, you should contact your local cable company to see how you can get a converter box and whether there will be any additional charges for the box or your service.
—James K. Willcox