DTV voucher bows in Washington


WASHINGTON -- The White House unveiled its DTV card on Thursday when Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez showed off the voucher American TV viewers may use to defray the cost of the switch to digital TV.

"It's like a credit card, so it's easy to keep and easy to identify," said Gutierrez as he brandished the red card inside the Northwest Washington Best Buy.

On Feb. 17, 2009, it will be lights-out for the old analog TV transmission system that's been in use since Jack Benny. Television will still go on, but it will be sent over-the-air or through a wire as a bunch of ones and twos. TVs hooked to satellite or cable will be largely unaffected, but analog sets that use an antenna could go dark.

Government and industry have a shared goal in making the switch go smoothly, and to that end Congress created the voucher. Households can get a pair of the $40 vouchers and trade them in for a converter box that will make the old TV work.

Of course, if a customer decided to go big and buy a new digital TV, that wouldn't hurt Best Buy, senior vp Michael Vitelli says. He announced that the digital-analog converters will be on the shelves of his stores on Feb. 17 -- the day vouchers are mailed and exactly a year before the switch.

"It's one of the most important telecommunications years in communications history that we're headed into," Vitelli said. "We're committed to do what's necessary to find the technological solution to meet their specific needs."