After Barack Obama asked key lawmakers last week to delay the digital TV transition, new legislation in support of the president elect could be introduced as early as this week, despite dismay from major digital TV organizations.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who became chairman of the Senate’s Commerce committee this month, has taken the lead in crafting legislation with fellow politicians in the Senate and House. According to an aide to Rockefeller, the committees are working on delaying the transition for a period of time and “fixing” the coupon problem.
For those tuning in… TV channels will switch to all-digital broadcasts after Feb. 17. Viewers who don’t have a digital TV or digital service will most likely see a blank screen (some stations will continue to air DTV transition tips over analog airwaves). The cheapest option for analog TV viewers is to purchase digital converter boxes, which start at $40. A government-funded coupon program, which allotted two $40 coupons per household, has been tapped dry; a waiting list began earlier this month. Obama has asked that more money be added to the coupon fund.
“Their hope is to file some legislation this week,” said a Rockefeller aide.
If a delay is approved, it won’t be the first time. The original deadline was December 2006. A delay would give analog TV viewers more time to convert their TVs to digital. On the other hand, it also would give them more time to procrastinate.
The Federal Communications Commission isn’t in favor of a delay because it could cause confusion among consumers. Readers of the The Consumerist aren’t fans either. One commenter points out ”…if they do delay it again, what’s going to get people motivated to get their new converter boxes? The deadline will just keep getting pushed back. Until Analog is shut down, most places won’t turn up their digital equipment to full power.”
The National Association of Broadcasters, which has aggressively promoted the digital TV transition to consumers for the past year, feels the nation is ready.
“NAB and broadcasters nationwide are committed to being ready by Feb. 17 and strongly support a solution that would enable the government to continue making converter box coupons available to consumers who rely on free television,” NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a statement.
Of course, consumers can still buy a converter box without the $40 coupon. They just won’t get the government-funded discount.
Back in 2007, NAB estimated that the DTV transition would affect 19.6 million households who rely solely on over-the-air TV signals. But it would also affect 14.9 million people who have a mix of analog TVs and a paid service or digital TV at home. But those numbers are nearly two years old.
The most recent figures come from The Nielsen Company, the TV research company. By December 2008, Nielsen reported that 6.8 percent or about 7.8 million households would have no working television after Feb. 17.
However, the Orange County/Los Angeles market is “somewhat less prepared than the nation as a whole,” said Anne Kissel Elliot, Nielsen’s vice president of communications.
Nielsen estimates that as of December 9.5 percent of the 5,654,260 total TV households here are completely unprepared.
“That means that in the Los Angeles area there are approximately 535,000 households that would not be able to get a TV signal. These households do not have a digital television, converter box or cable or satellite service,” Elliot said.
Related stories from the web:
FCC Says No to Obama’s DTV Transition (Tom’s Hardware)
Do we have a 700 MHz problem? (Telephony Unfiltered blog)
AT&T, Verizon Disagree Over Digital TV Delay (Dow Jones)
All digital TV? Please stand by (LA Times)
More on the digital TV transition at gadgetress.freedomblogging.com/dtv/