One of the rapidly depleting converter box coupons

One of the rapidly depleting converter box coupons

The digital transition switch, which was originally set to be flipped on February 17, has been pushed back to June 12. Congress voted 264-158 last Wednesday to delay the digital television transition for four months. The Senate passed this bill during the previous week. Apparently, the delay was initiated by consumer advocacy groups who claimed that the public was not adequately prepared for the transition. These groups have stated that the low income, non-English speaking, and rural populations are especially at risk of being unprepared. The Nielsen Co. estimates that approximately 6.5 million U.S. households still rely on analog television sets.

Last month, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced that it had run out of money for a program to distribute coupons to help people (who have neither digital TV sets, nor cable services) cut some of the costs associated with purchasing digital-converter boxes. NTIA reports that there are still over 3 million people waiting to receive coupons. The new bill will allow people with expired coupons to apply for new ones. In addition, the economic stimulus bill that is currently before Congress will provide $650 million to reinvigorate the coupon program.

Some argue that this delay will confuse the same consumers that it aims to help. They also say that it will burden public safety agencies and wireless companies who have waited for years to use the airwaves that were to be freed by the transition. However, the bill will give power to the FCC to allow some broadcasters to switch to digital prior to the June deadline.

The only thing left is for President Obama to sign the bill. The White House released a statement last week emphasizing that, “[t]he passage of this bipartisan legislation means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion.”

Let’s just hope that this all gets figured out soon, because flipping the switch on and off can get pretty expensive after a while.

–Traci Galbreath

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2 Responses to Flipping the Digital Transition Switch: Off or On?

  1. dfb says:

    I think the correct word for the digital transition is “boondoggle.”

    The converter box coupon program was never designed to help the poor or elderly in the transition. If that was the goal, the coupons would have been: a) sent only to people under a certain income level; b) redeemable with a purchase for a stand alone converter or new television with a digital tuner under a certain price (say $400); and c) television broadcasters would have been required to provide PSAs about the digital transition throughout the day starting a year in advance.

    In the end, none of that is the case. Anyone could get the coupons without demonstrating need. The coupons are good only to purchase stand-alone devices that will convert the signals and not for multi-purpose devices like VCRs, televisions, etc. that build in a converter. The big winners are the manufacturers who make the approved converters, select number of stores that sell the converters, and television broadcasters that don’t need to pay a penny for their broadcast licenses. Triple yuck!

    Unfortunately, a few more months will not change anything although I do not blame the consumer advocates for trying.

    btw: thanks for providing credit to my photo. :)

  2. hb says:

    This fiasco reminds me of the USF (Universal Service Fund) charge tacked onto every single phone bill for years. The ostensible reason was to help troglodytes get access to the Internet. I suppose we should be lucky Congress hasn’t tacked a similar charge onto everyone’s cable or utility bills, to help TV troglodytes get their digital transmissions.

    This delay has only been going on for a decade now, what’s another few decades after all?

    BO’s first dalliance with telecom is an embarrassing failure (we already knew Congress’ hands were dirtied).

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