Isidro Diaz surfs channels on his old TV about three hours a night in the trailer he rents for $350 a month. Come Tuesday, his limited choice of programs will be much more limited.
Although the government delayed the mandatory shutdown of analog TV signals by four months to give people with older TVs more time to prepare, that's small comfort to Diaz and other people who live in cities where some broadcasters are switching to all-digital broadcasts Tuesday, as they had originally planned.
Because it is costly to keep broadcasting analog signals, nearly 500 stations intend to make the transition Tuesday rather than June 12. The Federal Communications Commission has told 123 stations they might have to reconsider, so no city loses all its analog network broadcasts. But either way there will be an odd patchwork of programming for millions of Americans who still rely on analog TV signals.
To deal with the change, they need a digital converter box or a new TV with a digital tuner, or cable or satellite service.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of 200 advocacy groups, has digital TV assistance centers in seven metropolitan areas — Atlanta, Detroit, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and St. Paul — to answer questions, demonstrate converter boxes and sometimes send out house calls.
In San Diego, the nation's eighth-largest city, the ABC, CBS, Fox and CW affiliates plan to end analog broadcasts Tuesday.
Diaz, a 63-year-old Mexican immigrant who was laid off a month ago by a garden nursery that paid $10 an hour, figures he will eventually muster $200 for a digital television; the least expensive model on Best Buy Co.'s website costs $130.
He recently shopped at an electronics store for a digital converter box for the $40 used Sony TV he bought from a newspaper classified ad four years ago. But the $60 converter box didn't seem worth it because he can get a new TV for a little more.
Subscribing to cable or satellite TV is out of the question.
"There's no work right now, $40 a month is very difficult," Diaz said while scarfing a dinner of beef tacos at a stand in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood.
The Obama administration sought the delay in the analog TV shutdown after the government ran out of money for the $40 coupons that subsidize digital converter boxes. The program has a waiting list of 4 million coupons; each household can get up to two.
According to research firm MRI, 17.7% of Americans live in households with only over-the-air TV. The Nielsen Co. said last week that more than 5.8 million U.S. households, or 5.1% of all homes, were not ready for the analog shutdown.
However, officials at stations that plan to make the switch Tuesday believe that the transition will mainly go smoothly, and that the delay will confuse consumers.
"They've had two years to get ready is our feeling," said Larry Patton, general manager of KSWO-TV, an ABC affiliate in Lawton, Okla. "We feel there's always going to be a few people who are going to wake up on the morning of Feb. 17, or June 17, or whenever it is, and not be ready."
Bryan Frye, marketing director at KAKE-TV, the ABC station in Wichita, said he was half-joking when he described fears about the analog shutdown as "a little like Y2K."
"We are going to pull out all the stops, we are going to have everybody on board, you know, full alert," Frye said. "It is going to happen and everybody is going to go, 'Hmmm, OK.'"