This time next year, the way Newburyport residents watch television will be changing. In February 2009, the television sets of old will be no more, making way for digital cable to take over.
In 2005, Congress passed the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act, which mandates the switch from analog to digital TV in order to free up more frequencies for police, fire and emergency radio transmissions.
After two years of planning, the first steps toward the switch came on Tuesday when a coupon was made available to help those who currently have analog TV to switch to digital.
The implementation of digital TV has recently come under fire by watchdog agencies that say the elderly and low-income people will not be able to afford this change. According to a study by the Association of Public Television Stations, seniors are likely to suffer the most when the digital switch is flipped because they are more likely to rely on free over-the-air analog signals to watch the news, weather and entertainment programing.
People who watch satellite or cable TV are not affected.
Locally, Newburyport Council on Aging director Roseann Robillard confirmed the switch will hurt the elderly.
"It will be a blow to those people who don't have the proper equipment or the means to get it," Robillard said. "A lot of seniors are on a fixed or limited income, and watching TV is the entertainment they could afford until now."
"This could become a real challenge for them when it goes into effect," Robillard said.
Until March, residents will be able to apply for a coupon that can be put toward a converter box that will convert the analog signals to digital. The $40 coupon will help offset the price of the box, which costs anywhere from $50 to $70.
"Any senior who considers this a challenge and needs help can contact me, and we can figure out a way to resolve the problem," Robillard said, noting it will most likely involve help from the community or any resources available to find the money needed.
"Its a wonderful idea if they have family who never know what to give mom or dad for their birthday to gift them with a new TV."