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Should the Feds Delay the DTV Transition?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on January 07, 2009

TV tech is hitting some speed bumps on its way into the Digital Age. One of the country’s most influential consumer groups is asking the government to push back the Feb. 17 deadline when so-called analog TV signals are due to go dark, making way for digital signals. The analog-to-digital transition has been a long time in the making, and Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, says people need a little more time.

The reason? The government program that subsidizes TV converter boxes that enable rabbit-eared televisions to receive digital programs has run out of money. On Monday, USA Today reported that more than 103,000 people are on the waiting list for coupons worth $40 a piece. The coupons can be used toward purchase of TV converter boxes, which typically cost between $40 and $80, and allow a rabbit-eared TV to receive digital signals.

The $1.34 billion government program ran out of money on Sunday. And the government agency responsible for administering it is being accused of mismanagement: According to experts quoted in the USA Today story, it should have asked Congress for more funds sooner.

Should the transition be delayed? Personally I don’t see why it should, though my opinion may not be popular. The government has always said its coupons will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Coupons have been available for more than a year, and consumers should have applied for them months ago. Back in September, the government urged consumers to apply for coupons as soon as possible, before they run out. Sure, people who have waited to the last minute are out of luck, but they should have applied for their coupons sooner.

So, what’s to do at this point? It is possible that Congress may allocate more funds to issue more DTV coupons. Or that some people who’ve already received coupons don’t use them and they will get reissued. So getting onto the government’s wait list may still be your best bet.

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Reader Comments


January 8, 2009 02:01 AM

The boxes will be on garbage dumps everywhere. Most people don't need them. Coupons? You want something, friggin pay for it, period. Ineed a new car, do I get coupons now? Delay for what? So that we all have to watch crappy TV for another month or three? Delay technology because people are stupid? What is this nonsense? Digital could have been there 5 years ago, just like 64 bit computing! Sure, let's delay and go back into the caves!


January 8, 2009 02:53 AM

wow, that seems a bit callous to think that people "should have applied for their coupons sooner." Maybe back in September, people could still afford to have cable or satellite TV... But after the economy so dramatically went south since October, maybe some people who had cable or sat TV can't afford it anymore after loosing a job. Or maybe an elderly couple just lost their savings from a feeder fund to Madeoff, and lost half of their fixed income and had to cut some expenses for their medications... It's quite a different world since even sept, let alone last year. And considering this transition will most affect the people who can least afford to buy the converter box out right, a little compassion should be warranted. Remember the news reports of the people who used to contribute to the food bank having to go get food from them now. I doubt you feel so "they should have..." when it's you who have fallen on hard times.

Old man river

January 8, 2009 03:59 AM

Government officials have been telling US residents,the airways belong to the public. The Bush administration, in yet another ill conceived decision now feels the government owns the historical VHF frequencies used for TV transmission, and chooses to usurp them, to resell to the cellular phone industry while the consumer foots the cost of the changeover. One more example of sticking a governmental thumb in the eye of the US taxpayer/voter, heading into the worst Bushco created economic disaster since the 1930's. This is one consumer that won't be making the change, and I'm sure there are others. We do have radio, the internet, Canadian TV reception which so far is still VHF.


January 8, 2009 05:57 AM

I didn't want to think of myself resisting the change over because I'm technolgy illiterate but only that some people will just go without because its too dificult for whatever reason. Not everyone has someone to help them,like the elderly, disabled etc. But now the system of getting help to those who can do it has broken down and I don't feel so bad for the resistance. I'm losing a good method of storm tracking in a storm rich area when my battery run tv goes dark.


January 8, 2009 10:47 AM

TV is not a right. It is a service you pay for. Cant afford it then don't buy it. VHF freqs are owned by the government. I am tired of paying the bill for those who wont.

Ralph Potle

January 8, 2009 02:11 PM

This program should have never happened. Did the government give you a coupon for to replace yoru clunck brick analog cell phone when cell providers turned off analog?

Technology goes obsolete all the time and tvS should be no different. This program is a givewaway to the National Association of Broadcasters and a local TV market beased business model that is doomed to die. Programs like SHVA and this are not going to help

Danny G Swope

January 8, 2009 02:41 PM

TV is NOT a service you pay for. Since the Communications Act of 1934, the laws have protecting the rights of all citizens to have access to broadcasting, first radio and then tv. The sign on announcements of most tv stations, (remember when they signed off?), used to mention the programs were available for use where no admission or cover charge was required. The concept of "Free" tv is as closed to a sacred cow as we have and should be a primary concern. There are literally millions of people in this country, many of them elderly or disabled, who can't afford any extra expense, often living on a few hundred dollars per month as their only income. TV is often their only source of news and entertainment and they have no way to get extra money to buy new tvs. Additionally, many people are finding that they buy boxes or new tvs and often can't get their programs on digital tv. I'm an engineer and I can tell you positively that the issues are complicated and that many viewers with boxes or new tv's won't be able to watch their favorite programs over the air without cable or satellite service. It's often not as simple as the DTV psa spots show on tv, especially for someone who is not technically savvy. I still think the DTV transition should be something that is done over several years, with analog broadcasting continuing for at least three years from the transition date. That would give those poor and near-poor, the elderly and those "technically chanllenged" more opportunity to find someone to help them get and install the proper equipment and more time for educating those confused by the misinformation put out by those with an interest in selling something, whether needed or not. I talked this week to a lady who was sold a $2800 TV when one for less than half that price would have been fine. They didn't install it for her, but they sold her the (wrong) antenna, a blu-ray player, (that they said she had to have because her old DVD player was uselss with the new TV), and some HDMI cables for equipment she didn't even have. None of that helped because when she got hom and set it all up, she couldn't get most of the stations. She is going to have to spend more money and experiment with amplified antennas if she doesn't want to subscribe to satellite service or cable. I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but it all seems terribly self-serving to me. A lot of people and a lot of companies are making a lot of money off of this DTV transition and it all seems a bit much some times.

Darren Luke

January 8, 2009 03:27 PM

Federal Spending on DTV transition = 1.5 billion

Federal Spending on Adult Literacy = 574.6 million

Anyone other than the elderly or disabled who cannot figure out how to purchase and connect a converter probably watches too much TV anyway.


January 8, 2009 06:00 PM

"Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Consumer's Union should butt out! The stations have been broadcasting in digital format for 3 years and the coupons were available for a whole year! Yes cable companies are telling lies to sell cable. Yes electronic dealers are telling lies to sell TV's. So what else is new. Here's a news flash: If you dump cable and buy a new TV, even on credit, you still save money! You don't have to buy a converter to watch TV, you can watch some of it over the internet for free! If you're a technophobe, too bad for you!

Al Chicote

January 8, 2009 10:48 PM

Dan Swope tells it as it is. Radio, TV fall into the same area of rights as the First Amendment, Freedom of speech. In our situation, the local stations have relocated their antennas which are now out of our range. The one station which broadcast in Digital/ Analog is about 90 miles away. Digital signal is lost more often than not, however the analog signal remains strong. We also get four ION (independent owned network) which is about 25 miles away, and loses their digital signal even on a clear day. Oh, the Cable provider will not service our area, our telephone wires were installed in 1951, and the telephone providers( there have been three) rather pay our state a "fine" (about $500,000.00) than upgrade the telephone lines. That's a whole other story. Satellite TV is not an option due to not having a clear shot of the Southern sky. So we are forced,by this new mandate, to return to the stone age.

Leo Getz

January 8, 2009 11:20 PM

Someone forgot to mention Federal Spending, per month, in iraq. What is it $10 billion give or take. What erks me are the ones that get the coupons, buy the boxes at $40 off, then turn around and sell them on ebay, amazon or the local pawn shop. They'll certainly be taking advantage of the coupon program running out of money.
Anyway that being said I'm in favor of postponing the transtion. I'm one of the 20 million who live in rural America. I also live in the Midwest's tornado alley. Alot of Rural Americans without satellite tv still rely on local, over the air, analog TV broadcasts to receive warnings in the event of such weather. Of all the Months congress could have picked as the cutoff date they chose Feb 17. A Month and a half before tornado season sets in. I was within a 1/4 of a mile of a tornado touchdown a few years ago and was thankful I received prior warning 30 minutes in advance thanks to local tv. I currently receive local DTV broadcasts thru my DVD tuner and HDTV but wonder about those in this part of the Country who won't after Feb. 17th.


January 9, 2009 09:02 AM

This is the biggest problem we face as a Nation. Everytime a goal is set and people can't get it together, the time is extended, the bar is lowered, or worse, Congress (please help us) does something about it. It is time that the concept of negative consequences returns to our culture. How many years has this been going on? If people aren't ready, then no TV for them. Enough of everyone getting a trophy. Enough of never having to feel the effects of failure. Maybe they will learn when the next big issue rears its ugly head...or not.


January 11, 2009 04:09 AM

The airwaves belong to the people, not to the TV stations. It is unfair to change the technology, tell people they will receive coupons to cover the costs, then say "Oh, sorry, we're out of money" especially when only a quarter of the coupons that have been sent have been redeemed.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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