With the February 17, 2009 switchover to digital television scarcely more than a month away, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee have proposed putting another $650 million in to the government’s coupon program to enable over-the-air TV viewers to get $40 towards the purchase of a digital TV converter. The converter coupon allocation is barely a line item in a 13-page summary (PDF) of proposed expenditures and investments in the representative’s proposed economic stimulus legislation.
The current converter voucher program is effectively out of money, although it will be able to issue more vouchers over the next few weeks as unused, previously-issued vouchers expire. Without a digital converter, Americans who rely on over-the-air television broadcasts will not be able to receive television signals after the February 17 switchover, unless they buy a new television with a digital tuner or switch to a service like cable and satellite which can operate with older analog television sets. Even with a converter box, consumers may not find the DTV transition smooth sailing, since many analog TV antennas don’t do a good job of pulling in the new DTV signals.
Recent weeks have seen calls from the Obama transition team to consider delaying the DTV switchover; however, most industry watchers (and influential figures like the outgoing FCC commissioner Kevin Martin) have noted changing the transition date could be very costly and generate consumer confusion.