Digital lessons

Federal Communications Commission representative Katrina Kleinwachter demonstrated how to connect a digital converter box to a television at an informational program Tuesday at Blue Earth County Library.

John and Joan Roth of rural Lake Crystal say they aren’t big TV watchers.

They don’t subscribe to cable or satellite service, and they use an antenna to receive seven channels on their older model analog television set.

They and those in similar situations gathered Tuesday to get answers regarding Feb. 17.

That’s the day the nation’s television broadcasts convert from analog to all-digital programming, and those without the proper equipment will see only snowy screens.

The Tuesday sessions at Blue Earth County Library were conducted by Federal Communications representative Katrina Kleinwachter, who laid out the options:

In order for digital broadcasts to be received by those now watching free over-the-air television through a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears,” they’ll need to either acquire a TV with a digital tuner, subscribe to cable or satellite service, or buy a converter box.

The latter “cheap fix” option is what interested most people at the library informational sessions.

“I just don’t want to buy a different TV,” John Roth said.

He won’t have to. The boxes convert digital signals to analog and typically retail for about $60.

Kleinwachter demonstrated how to hook up the boxes to TV sets, and also reviewed a federal program whereby households can receive $40 coupons applicable toward converter-box purchases.

There has been some concern of late that the government is about to run out of money to finish funding the program, but Kleinwachter was optimistic that all who seek coupons — two per household are allowed — will be served.

“We’re fully confident Congress will take action on this,” she said.

Mankato hilltop residents Marilyn and Don Sieberg applied for coupons and received their boxes last spring. They attended the Tuesday gathering to learn how to connect them to their sets through their VCR equipment.

The couple has four aging sets.

“Our main TV was (Don’s) mother’s. She bought it new in 1983,” Marilyn Sieberg said.

Federal law is requiring the switch to digital, which will free up airwaves for police, fire, and emergency rescue communications, provide better picture and sound quality for TV programming, and offer more programming choices.

KEYC TV General Manager Dennis Wahlstrom said about 21 percent of households in the North Mankato station’s market area have analog TVs receiving programming through antennas.

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