With just two weeks to go before the scheduled February 17 switchover to digital television, Congress continues to thrash out a plan to postpone the move until June. Last Thursday, after a House version of the bill failed to get the required two-thirds majority to pass, the Senate approved a modified plan that would make the switchover delay voluntary, thereby appeasing station owners who say it’ll cost too much money to broadcast in digital and analog for another four months.
The switchover delay would give the 13.5 million U.S. households that receive analog TV signals more time to buy digital converter boxes. An estimated 6.5 million of those homes don’t yet have a digital tuner, and their TVs will soon go dark without the delay, consumer groups fear.
This week the House takes up the Senate’s version of the bill, but under normal rules requiring only a simple majority to pass. At this point, it’s a given that some form of the digital delay bill will pass, and probably within a week or so. Hopefully it will so that Congress can move on to more important issues. (You can guess what they are.) True, the rabbit-ears crowd has had three years to get a converter box, and few could have missed the endless barrage of TV spots warning about the Fed ’09 switchover. But the Feds did run out of $40 coupons designed to defray the cost of the digital tuners, a funding fiasco that has lead to a waiting list at the government site set up to distribute the vouchers.
In other words, you can’t blame the whole mess on procrastinating TV owners. Then again, maybe tough love is the best solution here. There’s nothing like a dead TV to get consumers to take action. I can only imagine the flood of voucher requests that would occur on February 18 if the February 17 deadline stays. But we probably won’t find out. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those 6.5 million homes will have their digital boxes by new June deadline.
This story, "Digital TV Delay Bill: Pass It Already! " was originally published by PCWorld.