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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.
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