When most of us think about TV time-shifting, it's TiVo that comes to mind, not the federal government. But Congress and President Obama agreed to their own version of TV time-shifting -- or in this case, timeline shifting -- by delaying from today until June 12 the nation's switch from analog to digital TV.
The DTV delay had to overcome objections from many in the TV industry, who can correctly claim that carrying both analog and digital signals exacerbates the challenges they face in a media recession. It may also be costly for some wireless companies, which paid for access to the freed-up analog spectrum but now must wait to use it. And many lawmakers and citizens believe a deadline set years in advance -- and then delayed -- is just the latest example of America becoming a nanny state.
There's merit in those arguments. But a stronger case was made by those wanting to wait to avoid the "train wreck" predicted by two former commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission, William Kenard, a Democrat, and Michael Powell, a Republican, if the government had stuck with today's D(TV)-Day deadline.
Their warning reflects what many in Washington believed: Too many Americans vulnerable to losing TV were among the most vulnerable in society. This especially includes non-English speaking households, those with lower incomes and some senior citizens, who are over-represented among the 5.1 percent that Nielsen estimates are unready for the switch. And the political process tripped up the transition even further by underestimating the demand for $40 coupons to buy a DTV converter box. The program hit a funding ceiling that created a waiting list of more than 3 million -- or nearly half the "unready" households.
The recently passed stimulus bill, which Obama will sign today, allocates up to $650 million to break the coupon logjam.
So now that the DTV date is delayed, it's time to get going. Like an extension on your homework or your taxes, the extra time isn't for more procrastination, but a chance to catch up.
MAKING THE SWITCH
Consumers have three options to switch to digital TV:
•Purchase a new digital television.
•Subscribe to satellite or cable.
•Replace rabbit ears with converter boxes that are available at most major electronics retailers.
Those who need a converter box coupon can get in line by going online to www.DTV2009.gov, or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009.
We apologize for the inconvenience.