US Senators push for DTV delay

Monday, January 19, 2009

An old analog television, scheduled to stop working after the Feb. 17 digital transition.
Image: Hana Kirana.

One month from the February 17 scheduled transition from analog to digital television broadcast in the United States, members of the United States Senate have introduced a bill that would push back the transition four months later, to June 12. This is due to concerns raised about the government's subsidy program for digital TV receiver boxes, which has run out of money with over 1 million televisions in the United States still running on analog.

"In Minnesota, more than 21% of our households depend exclusively on over-the-air broadcast TV. While the digital TV transition should happen, this delay is necessary to make up for the lack of preparation on the part of the current administration. Unfortunately, after guarantees that the Bush administration would adequately prepare and protect consumers, only in the last few days have they revealed that funding has run out— just weeks before the plug is pulled on analog TV." said US Senator Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, from the state of West Virginia, also led the charge for the bill to be passed. He said in a statement to the media, "Over 2 million Americans are waiting to receive a coupon to help them offset the cost of equipment that will help them manage the transition. Millions more don't have the proper information they need." He also had a concern that “...because this transition is going to hit our most vulnerable citizens — the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with language barriers — the hardest." This call by Senators has also earned the support of president-elect Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated on Tuesday.

The government's subsidy program was set up to provide millions of $40 digital converter boxes to people who could not afford to buy a new television or upgrade to satellite or cable transmission. Many people complained that when they received their coupons, they were not able to use them as they had already expired. Currently, approximately 2 million Americans are on a waiting list to receive coupons for these digital converter boxes.

Although members in the Senate as well as the president-elect support this idea, many television stations do not. Nat Ostroff, part of the Sinclair Broadcast Group which owns nearly 60 television stations, says that many stations had used a large sum of money to prepare for the transition to digital broadcast and would lose funds if the delay was passed. "A delay would not be welcome for the broadcast stations themselves," he said, "The sooner we can turn one of them off, in these hard times, the happier everyone would be."