analog television © Corbis

Extra6/8/2007 4:00 PM ET

Will your TV suddenly go black?

The government says consumer-electronics stores aren't doing enough to alert customers about the pending transition to digital television.

By MSN Money staff

The big names in consumer-electronics retailing are selling analog TVs without alerting buyers that the sets won’t work without conversion devices after mid-February 2009, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC this week warned Best Buy (BBY, news, msgs), Circuit City Stores (CC, news, msgs), CompUSA, Kmart and RadioShack (RSH, news, msgs) that they face $11,000-a-day fines, up to $97,000, unless they prominently display notices alerting shoppers that broadcasters are switching to all-digital signals on Feb. 17, 2009.

Earlier, the FCC told retailers they had until May 25 to post "consumer alert labels" in "close proximity" to analog sets, even those sold online. The regulators said the move was necessary because voluntary efforts by stores and television makers weren't working.

After FCC staffers made in-store visits and surfed retailers' Web sites, the commission concluded that analog-only devices were still being sold without the proper alerts. Hence the citations sent by the FCC this week threatening retailers with fines for noncompliance.

Although high-definition TVs have been a bright spot for consumer-electronics chains, the retailers continue to offer analog-only TVs, typically for less than half the price of an HDTV set.

TV with an expiration date

Roughly one in 10 Americans rely on an analog set with rabbit ears to watch free over-the-air broadcasts. An additional 15 million might have cable or satellite television service but have extra sets in their home that aren't hooked up and depend on their antennas for service.

Starting next year, owners of analog televisions will be able to buy a converter box for $50 to $70 that can pick up digital signals and convert them to analog. To ease the burden, the Commerce Department intends to offer $40 coupons that will defray the cost of a converter box.

Three in five Americans, according to a recent poll, don't know about the pending transition to digital television.

Congress set the 2009 deadline several years ago to free the nation's analog airwaves for public safety agencies like police and fire departments, as those frequencies are useful at passing through buildings and walls. Some of the newly available frequencies will be bought by cellular and other wireless companies seeking to expand their services.

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