Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on January 26, 2009
The House is expected to vote Tuesday to delay the final transition to digital television in the U.S. from Feb. 17 to June 12, following the Senate’s unanimous passage of the legislation today.
Oddly, the bill does not appear to contain any new money (the text of the bill as passed was not available as of this writing) to subsidize the purchase of of converter boxes that will allow analog TVs to receive digital signals after the switchover. The exhaustion of funds for the $40 coupons was the ostensible reason for the delay. The bill does, however, give new life to coupons that were ordered but not used as required within 90 days. My local BestBuy had enormous piles of converters available for $50 (before coupon) last weekend.
The big question remains what is going to happen come June. Chances are the small minority of Americans who aren't ready for the switch now won't be any more ready come June. But further delay would be problematic. Verizon Wireless and AT&T bid nearly $20 billion for wireless spectrum that will be freed in the transition; they want the spectrum and the government needs the money. Meanwhile, spectrum that is supposed to be released for public safety use is also being held up. And broadcast stations are incurring extra costs to keep both their analog and digital signals on the air.
The transition to digital TV has been an extraordinarily long a bumpy road. The switch was set in motion by the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 and was originally scheduled to be complete by late 2006.