Think Digitally

Start saving those pennies for digital TV when your old sets go dark.

House Republicans plan to pull the plug on analog broadcasts Jan. 1, 2009, but don’t foresee rebates to ease the cost of the changeover for the 85 percent of Americans who haven’t yet switched.

True, 2009 is further off than the 2006 deadline the Federal Communications Commission initially set when it launched the digital-TV revolution in 1997.

And true, the price of high-definition digital sets has come down to $1,800 for TVs using DLP, or digital light processing chips, with standard-definition TVs outfitted with digital tuners going for $300 and up. But top-of-the-line HDTVs still can cost $5,000.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told last month’s HDTV summit that he would include “rebates” to defray the $4 billion cost of digital converter boxes, expected to cost $50 for every analog TV that doesn’t get converted signals through cable or satellite TV subscriptions.

But so far rebates are a no-show in Congress, prompting Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to warn: “If you’re one of the millions of consumers who has an analog clicker in one hand, you’d better have your other hand on your wallet.”

Just in time for the summer driving season, there’s new help online for motorists looking for the cheapest gas around. Starting Memorial Day weekend, with the average price for self-service regular hovering at $2.11 a gallon, AAA is letting members research gas prices at 85,000 gas stations nationwide by ZIP code. The new program is offered by regional AAAs online through

The AAA service joins free Web sites including and that let motorists research cheap gas by locality.

Meanwhile, a new Harris Interactive poll reports that almost half of all respondents say high gas prices will crimp their summer travel plans. And a survey by Universal Orlando Resort reports that Americans suffer from a self-imposed “vacation crisis,” with half the workforce forfeiting an average eight days off a year.

Washington salutes the armed forces when it comes to retirement savings.

This week alone:

  • The House OK’d letting combat soldiers deposit their tax-free pay into Individual Retirement Accounts, making an exception to the current rules that prohibit taxpayers from putting untaxed income into tax-advantaged retirement plans.
  • Treasury announced plans to let members of the National Guard and Reserves continue contributing to their employer’s retirement plans while called to active duty.

The Supreme Court should say by early June whether it will consider FCC rules making it easier for media firms to expand and enter new markets.

Media companies want to void a lower-court decision ordering the FCC to justify its relaxing of a ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same town and other restrictions. Changes have been on hold since the FCC approved them in 2003.

The Bush administration urged the justices to sidestep the case, increasing the chances that they will let a reconstituted FCC, under new chairman Kevin Martin, justify the changes. Former FCC chief Michael Powell led the charge on the new rules.

Either way, media heavyweights don’t expect a final answer for at least a year.

Accountants and other tax preparers who outsource tax work abroad should be required to disclose the practice to clients, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson says.

“Anyone buying that service ought to know the work is going overseas,” the tax man tells lawmakers worried that overseas tax preparation isn’t bound by strict financial privacy protections.

Having won the battle over organic-food labeling, which started in 2002, the Organic Trade Association launches “Store Wars” in which Cuke Skywalker tries to rescue Princess Lettuce from the clutches of Darth Tater. Check out the online action at, even if your cinema habits consist of wallowing in buttered popcorn and other trans-fatty treats.

(E-mail Mary Deibel at DeibelM(at)