Are you losing your TV?

The pending transition to digital television could prevent some San Diego residents from getting important public safety messages if they are not prepared, officials cautioned Tuesday.

After Feb. 17, full-power television stations will stop transmitting in analog and broadcast programs only in digital signals.

“We want to make sure that televised information from the Emergency Broadcast System, the updates provided by city public safety agencies and coverage on the news can still be delivered across the region,’' San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said.

He said during the 2007 wildfires and recent crash of a military jet into a University City neighborhood, “television media was the best source for up-to-date information’’ from police and fire.

“Maintaining that service is contingent on making sure everyone can continue to receive television broadcasts,’' Sanders said. “That relies on everyone getting ready for digital TV.’'

Sanders was joined by Jonathan Adelstein, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, at an afternoon news conference to encourage residents to prepare for the switch.

“We need to have everybody ready for the digital transition,’' Adelstein said. “You can’t afford to not have access to TV because it could mean loss of access to life-saving information.’'

Those who have newer digital televisions or subscribe to cable or satellite service will not be impacted by the change.

However, people who get their television free through an antenna will get static after Feb. 17 if they don’t get a converter box, buy a new digital television or subscribe to a paid service.

The government is offering $40 coupons to help offset the cost of a converter box, but there is a huge backlog. The converter boxes run $40-$70 at retail stores without the coupon.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has also announced that it has run out of money for the coupons and has started putting people on a waiting list, Adelstein said.

“I am very disappointed to learn of that,’' Adelstein said, adding that Congress was reassured there were enough resources.

Despite the lack of funding for the program, Adelstein said people need to continue to apply for the coupons.

“Just because right now there is a waiting list doesn’t mean people shouldn’t apply,’' Adelstein said.

“That waiting list will move,’' he said. “People will still be able to get them, I hope, eventually. But, if they don’t apply soon they are going to be further down on the waiting list and they are much more likely to not be able to get one before February 17.’'

“If people want to get federal help for this they need to immediately apply, and I mean today, for those coupons,’' he said.

According to Adelstein, about 9 percent, or about 100,000 households, in San Diego get their television exclusively over the air and not from cable or satellite service.

That number is far greater nationwide, with almost half of all households not yet ready for the transition, he said.

Adelstein was scheduled to attend a town hall-style meeting later Tuesday in Chula Vista to discuss the transition to digital television.


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