According to an Associated Press report, on Jan. 26 the United States Senate voted unanimously to postpone the upcoming switchover from analog to digital broadcasting until June 12, 2009—nearly four months after the original date of Feb. 17. Congress must also approve of the proposal before it is enacted. That vote could take place as early as Jan. 27.
The report continues by saying that the Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million households rely on analog television sets and over-the-air broadcasts. When the switch occurs, these TVs will “go dark” unless used with a digital converter box. The government’s $1.34 billion coupon program, which provided up to two $40 coupons per household to help subsidize the purchase of digital converter boxes ended weeks ago when the funding limit was reached.
The report says that Gene Kimmelman, vice president for consumer policy at Consumers Union, argues that millions of Americans, particularly low-income and elderly viewers, will be affected because “the government has failed to deliver the converter boxes these people deserve just to keep watching free, over-the-air broadcast signals.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, and author of the bill says in the release, “Delaying the upcoming DTV switch is the right thing to do. I firmly believe that our nation is not yet ready to make this transition at this time.”
The report notes that Republicans in both the House and Senate have raised concern that the delay may do more harm than good. The Feb. 17, 2009 transition date was set in 2005—since then millions have been spent to alert consumers. In addition to the Republicans in the House and Senate, the Consumer Electronics Association trade group also predicts that the delay will confuse consumers.
The AP report adds that Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, estimates that delaying the transition could potentially cost public broadcasters up to $22 million.
According to a report on eweek.com, if Congress passes the bill and it is enacted, Americans who have yet to redeem their coupons for DTV boxes will be able to do so until Sept. 15. It is unclear, however, if the government will provide more funds to issue coupons.