Stuck covering the deadline for the transition to digital TV and not sure where to start? Here are the basics, brought to you by an organization that has been following the issue for five years:

Who cares about this story? Any TV viewer in a major centre who uses rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna (ie. doesn’t have cable or satellite) . if they’re not ready, their TVs will show nothing but static after today. As well, techies and anyone who likes getting stuff for free will be interested. The new digital over-the-air (OTA) channels are beautiful to look at, once you have the simple equipment needed to pull in the signals over the air.

What do you mean by major centre? Any provincial capital, any city with more than 300,000 and/or any city with more than one local station. Some stations in other communities are also going digital. Check with your local station(s) to confirm.

What equipment do you need to get the new free signals? Either 1) a TV bought in the last 3 to 4 years (sometimes advertised as an HD TV) that has a digital receiver; or 2) a converter box with two wires: one that attaches to your antenna, and the other to the back of your older TV (where you would hook up cable if you subscribed). Digital converter boxes are available at most electronics stores.

Aren’t all TV stations going digital? No. This transition affects local, over-the-air stations only, and mostly only those in major centres.

What happens to local stations not going digital? They can stay the way they are, at least for now. For example, CBC is not going digital in Saskatoon, London, Quebec City or Saint John. If you watch CBC over the air in those cities, you should be able to continue to watch them the same way as ever. They may have to reduce power to avoid interfering with stations going digital (ie. in Saskatoon), so the signal may not be as strong as before and there’s a chance it won’t reach you anymore. Some stations, including Global stations in smaller communities, will be going digital over the next five years. Because of aging equipment and a lack of replacement parts, the old analog transmitters will likely be shut down over the next couple of years. If they are not replaced with digital transmitters, the signals will no longer be available for free over the air. We expect thousands of Canadians to lose access to free TV signals over the next few years.

Who gets the channels that don’t go digital? The government will soon auction off the airwaves that are no longer used for TV. Most of these airwaves, known as frequencies, will be snapped up by cell phone companies for wireless services. The government is expected to generate billions of dollars in revenue from the auction; so far, none of that money is being earmarked to improve Canadians’ access to free TV signals or high-speed internet.