With only three weeks left until the nationwide digital television (DTV) transition on June 12, many local broadcasters will be participating in coordinated DTV "soft tests" Thursday.

These tests are designed to alert analog viewers who are unprepared for the impending transition that they will lose service once the transition occurs unless they act promptly to get ready.

A "soft test" simulates to some extent what unprepared viewers will experience when the DTV transition occurs. Instead of completely cutting off the analog signal, during the soft test broadcasters will interrupt the regular programming of viewers receiving analog signals to warn them the interruption indicates they are not prepared for the transition.

Such viewers – other than those connected to a subscription TV service such as cable or satellite - which in some cases still utilize a broadcaster’s analog signal – must take immediate action to avoid a complete loss of service on June 12.

Digital broadcasts are available now and will not be interrupted by the soft tests. The length of the interruptions will vary by station but generally will run between two and five minutes.

Nationwide, Nielsen estimates that about 3.3 million households – 2.9 percent of U.S. households with TVs – remained unready for the transition as of May 10.

The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration have together identified Joplin-Pittsburgh as one of the DTV transition "hotspot" markets, where a variety of factors indicate a significant number of households are currently unprepared for the transition. In the few weeks remaining before the transition, the FCC is gearing up its ongoing consumer assistance efforts in Joplin-Pittsburgh and other markets to ensure consumers are prepared for the end of analog broadcast service for full-power television stations.

Is it too late for consumers to get coupons for the converter boxes?

Consumers still have until July 31 to get coupons by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC.

In Joplin-Pittsburgh, 102,014 people have ordered coupons for their converter boxes, and only 57,664 have been redeemed as of May 6. It’s important that consumers understand that the coupons expire and they should act quickly.

"The soft test is a wake-up call to consumers telling them that the time to get ready for the DTV transition is now," said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. "We don’t want anyone to be left without the news, information and entertainment they need and enjoy. If you’re having trouble getting ready, you can get help right in your community and even in your own home by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC."

On June 12, all full-power television stations in the United States will stop analog broadcast service and transmit only digital signals.

Consumers who do not subscribe to pay television services and have older, analog televisions will need to attach digital-to-analog converter boxes to their televisions in order to continue receiving over-the-air television programming.

The switch to digital will reward most viewers with better sound, a better picture, more channels and more programs. The transition will also help save lives by clearing airwaves for better first-responder radio service. And it makes room for the future by clearing airwaves for advanced mobile Internet services.