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Senate grants Obama's wish to delay the digital transition, House votes on bill soon

TV viewers have been inundated with service announcements and coverage of the digital transition from analog to all digital TV broadcasts that is set to happen next month. Viewers who were using older TVs and don't get a converter or subscribe to pay-TV will lose the ability to watch free broadcast stations after the transition.

One of the first things that president Obama asked was to delay the digital transition to give Americans who weren't prepared more time to get ready. The government has been running a coupon program that gives people who need a converter box coupon to help pay for the cost of getting the needed converter.

The Senate drafted a bill last week that outlined a method for delaying the digital transition from February 17 to June 12 of 2009 to give viewers an extra four months to get a converter or subscribe to pat TV services.

MSNBC reports that the Senate has unanimously approved the bill to delay the transition to the June 12 date that the Obama administration wants. The delay is seen as a victory for the Obama administration and for Democrats in Congress who have been lobbying for a delay in the transition date.

The Nielsen Company performed a survey that found 6.5 million homes in America were unprepared for the digital transition and would lose the ability to watch TV after the transition. Funds in government coffers to help offset the cost of the converters for Americans dried up this month despite a long backlist of requests for the coupons.

Additional funds for the program are only being added as coupons that were requested and then not used expire after the 90-day usage window originally granted. The bill that was approved by the Senate will let those who asked for coupons and then didn’t use them apply for a new coupon. MSNBC reports that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is administering the coupon program, had 2.6 million coupon requests on its waiting list as of last week.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller said, "Delaying the upcoming DTV switch is the right thing to do. I firmly believe that our nation is not yet ready to make this transition at this time."

VP of the digital TV transition for the National Association of Broadcasters Jonathan Collegio says that the numbers cited by Nielsen may overstate the number of people not ready for the digital transition. Collegio says that the numbers exclude consumers who have purchased a converter box, but not installed it as well as those who have requested a coupon and not received it.

Gene Kimmelman from the Consumers Union says, "The government has failed to deliver the converter boxes these [elderly and low-income] people deserve just to keep watching free, over-the-air broadcast signals."

Republicans in both the House and Senate are concerned that a delay in the transition will do nothing but confuse consumers and cost broadcasters money. Paula Kerger from the Public Broadcasting Service claims that delaying the digital transition from February to June 12 could cost public broadcasters $22 million.

Part of the wording in the Senate approved bill will let broadcasters who have already purchased the needed equipment for digital broadcasts to transition to all digital in February, even if the House votes to approve the delay in the transition. The House is expected to vote on the bill next week.

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what happens when...
By acejj26 on 1/27/2009 10:24:02 AM , Rating: 3
the next deadline hits and there are still 3 million people that they think will be without access to tv? extend it again? then 5 months later, there are still 1.5 million? the question is, at what point do they say "eff em, they've had long enough?" because i thought that number would have been higher than 6 million, given how long this has been public information.

RE: what happens when...
By mindless1 on 1/27/2009 10:37:21 AM , Rating: 2
One key issue is the exhaustion of funds for the coupon program, they underestimated the demand and that so many would let the coupons expire.

IMO, it was not made quite clear that someone who needed a coupon, might find none available if they waited. Some did wait with the expectation the set-top boxes would drop in price, newer models would come out that were improved, or just general procrastination (coupled with working a lot more to pay for necessities like $4/gallon gas, remembering we're talking about low-income families in many cases).

This addt'l time will allow them to do as stated, issue new coupons.

When do they say it's last call, time to switch? They just did. There's really no rush to make this switch, as mentioned in another post the digital broadcasting is already present, it's just the overlap period that is extended. While I'm anxious to see what great new uses there are for this freed-up spectrum, I've heard of nothing available in a couple weeks from now.

RE: what happens when...
By nafhan on 1/27/2009 11:34:32 AM , Rating: 2
I think it's more likely that it'll stay at 6 million until they actually do the switch...

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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