Many consumers making the switch to DTV need a new antenna

About $650 million in the new congressional stimulus bill will help alleviate the shortage of funds in the DTV converter box subsidy. However, many who expect to pick up DTV signals will still need a new outdoor antenna.

There’s still concern that there might not be enough of the required converter boxes to go around. Acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said last week he is trying to get an update on the number of product lines making the boxes and when they will be available. The Consumer Electronics Association has warned of shortages due to the delay in the DTV transition.

In addition to $650 million for the coupon program, the stimulus legislation includes transition money the FCC said it will need to administer the change of date from Feb. 17 to June 12. The previously allocated $1.5 billion ran out, leaving the government unable to deliver boxes to more than 3.7 million waiting viewers.

Many who eventually receive the converter boxes may still be in for a surprise. The FCC’s estimate of people who won’t be able to view stations was based on every home having a 30ft tall antenna. In most households, this is obviously not the case.

A study by Centris, a market research firm, found that only 13 percent of households have such antennas. Without the antenna, more than half of homes in the areas it surveyed will lose the ability to view some stations.

Antennas can cost up to several hundred dollars to install. Converter boxes will not work without the antenna. That’s why many cable companies are offering low-cost hookups — as little as $10 a month — for television viewing.