To Delay or Not to Delay

As Barack Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States, he faces more challenges than most who have gone before him. While it's certainly not at the top of his to-do list, the transition to digital-only over-the-air television broadcasting is of growing concern to many Americans who rely on OTA as their only source of TV programming, and this concern has not escaped Obama's attention.

During the recent CES trade show, Obama announced that he wanted to delay the transition because of lingering, widespread confusion and the fact that the government has run out of money to subsidize coupons good for $40 toward a converter box that will translate digital broadcast signals to analog for older sets. According to reports I've seen, 1 to 2 million people are now on a waiting list for these coupons.

Apparently, Obama's primary concern is for the elderly and disadvantaged, who comprise a disproportionate fraction of those who receive their TV exclusively over the air. As a result, he wants to make more money available and give people more time to acquire the converters. Last Thursday, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a bill that would reset the transition date to June 12, and Shelly Palmer, an industry analyst, reports that his sources inside the Washington DC beltway say the transition will be delayed 90 days and that it's essentially a done deal.

When I first heard this new at CES, I was skeptical that the transition could be delayed after so many public-service announcements have already aired and continue to be aired even as I write this. On the other hand, I am concerned about those who won't be ready on Feb. 17—if there's some sort of disaster, they won't be able to get information on the Emergency Alert System.

Then there's the mismanagement of the transition itself. First, the date was poorly chosen—February is not the best time of year to be crawling on the roof to install a new antenna in many parts of the country. Also, the coupons were issued with a 90-day time limit, and 40 percent of the $1.34 billion subsidy has been lost because those coupons have expired. Finally, the Feb. 17 cutoff was established by Republicans over Democratic objections, leaving the new administration less than a month to finish the job.

So, all in all, I support a delay, if only to give Obama time to deal with the serious issues that remain, especially those related to public safety. What do you think? I invite you to post a comment here and share your thoughts with our community.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

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COMMENTS
celpirt's picture

If people haven't made the switch over yet, they're not going make it in the next 90 days. They need to go ahead pull the plug on Feb 17. If there's an emergency soon afterward, they can always turn it back on temporarily to get the message out. It's not like the analog equipment is going to disappear anytime soon.

David Vaughn's picture

Scott, Wasn't this date set years ago? How did the Republican's know they were going to lose the Presidential election so far in the past and use the analog cut-off as a way to "leave the new administration less than one month to finish the job." I doubt the new administration is going to be doing much of anything for the transition...it will be the same government workers who were there before who will handle the transition, regardless of who the president is. David

John In Missouri's picture

I have lived in my house for 20 years. When I first moved in I put an antenna on my roof and added an amplifier shortly therafter. I am about 29 miles from the furthest transmitter. Reception was terrible. Since this was a new subdivision, cable was unavailable for about two years. I had cable installed when it was available but cancelled it when prices rose too high for my taste. In 2000 I bought my first HDTV. As soon as I connected it to my antenna, I got this pristine picture that amazed me. Analogue was gone forever at my house. I know this scenario will not play out for everyone, but I think the naysayers ar wrong about the number who will be affected. My guess is that most people relatively far from transmitters already have cable or satellite. I have helped some of my elderly relatives and friends set up their converters. They were only opposed to the transition because it was a change and some people do not like change.

Frank's picture

They should just do it and get it over with. Too bad they came up with such a cockamamie scheme with expiring coupons; somebody sure made some bucks off of that...

Scott Wilkinson's picture

David, you are correct that the date was set two years ago, long before anyone knew who would win the election. I did not mean to say that the Republicans intended to sabotage the new Democratic administration. What I meant was that setting the date less than a month after the inauguration was a bad idea for any new administration, whoever it might be.

David Vaughn's picture

Scott, Thanks for the clarification. I agree that a Feb ruary date is idiotic, but do we expect anything else from our government officials? Then again, they probably spent $50 million on a study that said Feb ruary was the "perfect date" to make the changeover due to the lack of migrating birds heading south for the winter. David

Rob's picture

Actually if you think about it, the timing is excellent. It is after Super Bowl Sunday and before NCAA basketball finals as well as baseball season. This also is not during any major ratings sweep, end to a reality show contest (American Idol will go on for weeks) and usually no major political election, agendas, weather etc..that could affect other times of year. Forget Democrat or Republican, the timing is great to get it done. People both young and old as well as different income levels that I know that have switched here in the Chicago area are very pleased with the change. It is time that we institute and keep policy that affects the majority and not the isolated areas of small numbers of people that would only change if someone does it for them and pays for it as well.

The Flap's picture

If for the last 15 years people haven't been paying attention to the Digital switch, then it must not mean that much to them. I also notice that most broadcasters are not foaming at the mouth to delay. I realize the date was set ONLY TWO YEARS AGO, that really is such a short time. The PSA's haven't been running non-stop since a month or two after that. Almost every broadcaster has 5 min every three hours to talk about the DTV switch. This is BO wanting a socialist controlled media and TV network plain and simple. For a guy who wants change he sure wants to keep the things them same. This is a simple test for the uninformed, ignorant, entitlement types. Bo knows they will fail and expect everyone else to help out. Boo HOO

Steve in Kansas's picture

If I recall correctly, Feb ruary 17 was specifically chosen ( Instead of Jan . 1 ) for the switch-over date since it fell AFTER the Super Bowl. No excuses -- everyone has had enough time to prepare. Even us old people. In case of a national emergency switch on a radio if your tv is blank. If it is truly a national emergency there may not be any electricity to run the tv anyhow. Flip the switch and git-r-done.

Frank's picture

Always some righty gotta throw in some (stupid *ss) spin.

Glenn's picture

Let's clear up this misconception: The date was NOT set only two years ago. The original switchover date set by Congress in 1996 was Dec 31, 2006. In December 2005 (over three years ago now) it was extended to Feb 17, 2009. http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1035_22-146126.html Like everything else government administers, the coupon program has been poorly managed, but the public's continued apathy and ignorance is more to blame. So now the politicians think that extending it to Jun e will solve everything. Think again. Some people will NEVER be ready no matter how long you extend it, and there will be outcries about how unfair it all is regardless. So I say they should stick to the law they passed and have advertised in PSAs incessantly - NO MORE STUPID DELAYS. Just do it already. The laggards will only catch up when forced into it. Time to force them.

Glenn's picture

Just to followup on the reason for the Feb 17 date. As noted in the article I linked to (URL in post above), it was simply a compromise between a House bill date of Dec 31, 2008 and a Senate bill date of Apr il 7, 2009 back in 2005 when they decided to extend the deadline.

Glenn's picture

Just to followup on the reason for the Feb 17 date. As noted in the article I linked to (URL in post above), it was simply a compromise between a House bill date of Dec 31, 2008 and a Senate bill date of Apr il 7, 2009 back in 2005 when they decided to extend the deadline.

The Flap's picture

So Glenn You are saying that "a date" has been in place for more than THIRTEEN YEARS. This shows that some people need a "forced" reason to switch then right. Note that viewing TV is not a right it is a free service offered to those who have the right equipment. In my area the police band is now idle as the local departments have switched to a more secure cellular system. My scanner is almost useless, only on rare occasions will they use it ( fire dept excluded why I still have it ), I don't complain that the original purpose is lost on the device. Note too that those TV's out there will still work for DVD players and VCRs. The 13 years tells me that some people need a cattle prod to change.

Joe's picture

Not sure I agree with your public safety argument Scott. Is there anyone who owns a TV that does not own a radio?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Yes, Joe, I thought of radio too, and I agree that people can still get emergency info that way. Most of the comments here are strongly against any further delay, and I can certainly see their arguments. Thanks to everyone who has posted, and keep 'em coming! Does anyone favor a delay? If so, why?

cowanl's picture

I was one of those who let the coupon expire. I heard of the coupons, ordered them in the summer. When they arrived I just tossed them is a drawer and waited for prices of converters to go down. Then I heard there was an expiration I pulled them out of the drawer and sure enough they were expired. I appealed but no soap. I wound up buying a converter off eBay and paid $30. Small price to pay to be reminded there is no free lunch.

Dave J's picture

This whole DTV thing wreaked of SNAFU from the early times that I heard about it. Now, I am more confused than ever. I am told that many TV stations didn't go running toward the idea. The cable, satellite, and phone companies appear to have no true idea as to what to expect. our over the air viewers appear to be left in real darkness as to what may happen. Our cable provider tells us that we are DTV ready and don't have to do anything. But, just in case, I went out and bought a DTV just in case this whole thing gets messed up. At least we'll have one TV in the house that works..........I hope.

David Vaughn's picture

Dave J, If you have cable or satellite, you have no worries. The only people this will affect are people whose only way to get TV is over an antenna. David

Walt's picture

There has been enough time to switch over. Always will be folks waiting to the last minute.

The Flap's picture

Looks like the Senate screwed up. They didn't mandate for the broadcasters not to switch, just that they didn't have to. Anyone think a affiliate will not just go ahead with the in place plan since so little time is left to change? Yes they might lose viewers, but how much will the delay cost them? This whole bill could just be a PR stunt. BO doesn't want to ruffle the entitlementarians.

Bill's picture

If the funds for converter boxes hadn't run dry, it would be an easier decision about simply cutting the cord. Unfortunately, that's not the case. In these challenging economic times, there are people that need those coupons to make the switch. Another 90 days of PSAs is not going to be fun, but in the grander scheme of things, it's not the end of the world, either.

Steve Stahl's picture

We have been given more than enough time to go to dtv. Lets get this over with. A note to our politicians...It isn't a "right" to watch tv. Life will go on w/o a tv. If you are to poor to buy a converter box then listen to the radio...read a book...clean the house...or better yet get a job.

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