Christine Stuart photo

If you are one of the 80,000 people in Connecticut without cable television and you have yet to invest in a converter box or a new digital television then you may lose your signal Wednesday while two tests of the new digital broadcast system are conducted.

Jon Hitchcock, chairman of the Connecticut Broadcasters Association, said Tuesday that broadcasters are conducting the test noon to 12:30 p.m. and 5 to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday Dec. 3 to remind viewers of the nationwide DTV switch, which officially takes place in mid-February.

“Welcome to the future,” Hitchcock said at a forum Tuesday where industry executives and lawmakers discussed the pending changes.

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said he hopes the television and broadcast industry seizes on this opportunity to be seen as consumer friendly. He said senior citizens, the disabled, and non-English speaking households will likely be adversely impacted by this change and all it takes is a few individuals to be affected for it to create some negative publicity.

Bill Durand, executive vice president and chief counsel of New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, said he was glad to see lawmakers at the table because as a former lawmaker himself he knows they will be the first ones to receive the phone calls.

“You are going to get the calls,” he said.

Why is digital better?

Paul Gallant of Stanford Financial Group said the conversion from digital to analog began back in the 1980s when the Japanese unveiled high definition televisions. Fearing that the Japanese manufacturers would dominate the television market, American companies like Zenith and RCA, formed a consortium to develop digital HDTV.

Then in 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which told the FCC to give every television station a second channel for a digital signal. The act specified that when 85 percent of homes can receive a digital signal it can make the switch from analog to digital. Based on that specification it’s likely the switch would have been made in 2015, however, following the Sept. 11th attacks the 9/11 Commission discovered it needed the analog signal for better communications amongst first responders.

In 2005 Congress set Feb. 17, 2009 as the date for the analog turnoff and approved $1.5 billion in subsidies for digital converter boxes, Gallant said.

Jadz Janucik, senior vice president of Association Affairs at the National Cable and Telecommunications Associations, said anyone who has a television in their home has one of three choices: purchase cable or satellite television service, upgrade to a new digital television, or buy an analog to digital converter box.

She said those who don’t wish to purchase cable, satellite, or a new television, are eligible for a coupon that can be used toward the purchase of a converter box. She said of the $1.5 billion that Congress allocated in subsidies for the converter box about $990 million has been redeemed. She said about $36 million in coupons have not been redeemed and once those coupons expire there’s no way to apply for another one.

“There are going to be some wrinkles,” Janucik said.

Anyone with questions about the conversion can call 877-DTV-5353 or visit www.DTVAnswers.com.