Thursday, January 15, 2009

Digital TV - Maybe Not Next Month?

I've been writing about the transition from analog to digital television, referred to as DTV, for the last year and a half or so. Here's a refresher.....

Way back in 2005 Congress decided to move to all digital over-air broadcasting to free up spectrum for public safety and make some money by auctioning off the space. Auctions for the spectrum held last year brought in $19.6 billion to the federal government. Congress allocated a little less than $2 billion to provide $40 coupons for digital to analog converter boxes and get the word out to consumers about the change - if you have an analog television and watch over the air your television will not work after February 17 without a converter box.

So far so good - better public safety, some money for the federal government, higher quality digital television and a coupon program for the converter boxes, all with good up front planning.......

Fast forward to last week - on Monday the organization handling the conversion, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the program had no money left and a waiting list of 1.1 million converter box coupon requests. They also said approximately 13 million of the 41 million coupons mailed out to consumers had expired after 90 days.

Want more? Here's a quote from a piece in the Los Angeles Times:

In a letter Thursday to key members of Congress, John Podesta, co-chairman of Obama's presidential transition team, said the Feb. 17 conversion should be delayed, though he did not specify for how long. But with the incoming administration facing economic and foreign policy crises, it does not want to add a major problem with TV viewing in its first weeks in office.

Podesta cited troubles with the converter box coupon program as well as inadequate efforts to educate the public about the switch, and the need to help elderly, poor and rural Americans prepare for it.

"With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated analog cutoff date," Podesta wrote.

Podesta said the waiting list for coupons could climb to more than 5 million by early February.

Also..... Obama's economic stimulus package is rumored to include some money for the analog to digital transition.....

Will the February 17 deadline end up being extended? Right now it sure looks like it.

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