As the nation prepares to ditch analog signals for digital nirvana, a lot of consumers are being left in the lurch. Most of you readers know about the upcoming switch to digital TV signals, but does your dear Aunt Sally? According to a recent survey, probably not. Less than half of those asked knew about the switchover and a scant 17% identified the correct cutover. (In case you forgot, it's February of 2009.)
The FCC and cable industry are starting up an expensive ad campaign to warn folks, but it's looking like the switch to digital is probably going to be a fiasco. At least one cable system is preying on the ignorance about the switch to hawk more cable services and the FCC is taking a "let the market sort it out" approach. (Because, you know, everyone buys a new TV every couple of years anyway, right?) If you're still sporting an analog set (like yours truly), grab your $40 coupon from Uncle Sam and get ready to buy the converter boxes starting on January 1. Also don't forget to read the handy guide from Consumer Reports to get informed about the switch and make sure your friends and neighbors are aware of the switch.
There's also a lesser-known analog cut-off: cellular service. While the impact will be "minimal" in the words of the wireless industry, there's still a potential for several million phones to be cut off from 911 service. These include handsets donated to programs for abused women. What else is affected? How about OnStar systems and many wireless burglar alarms? GM has been trying to get people to buy a $15 digital upgrade to keep the systems running, but they continued to sell analog after the cut-off date was announced.
AT&T has a different kind of cut-off in mind. The company plans to phase out all of its pay phones. With a scant 65,000 pay phones in service (compared to 66,000,000 mobile phones), they've decided to wholesale the service and let other companies give it a go of the old coin-operated machines.