With the start of the new year, the government began distributing millions of $40 coupons to help television owners who don’t get cable or satellite service buy special converter boxes to receive digital signals.

Beginning Feb. 18, 2009, anyone who does not own a digital set and still gets their programming via over-the-air antennas will no longer receive a picture.

That’s the day the television industry is scheduled to complete its transition from old-style analog broadcasting to digital.

Primarily affected will be the 14 million or so households out of 113 million television homes that receive service over the air.

The converter boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70; they will be available at most major electronics retail stores. Starting Tuesday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration began accepting requests for two $40 coupons per household to be used toward the purchase of the boxes.

Viewers who have satellite or cable service will not need a converter box even if they have analog television sets.

To request a coupon, consumers can apply online at http://www.dtv2009.gov. The government also has set up a 24-hour hotline to take requests, 1-888-DTV-2009.