For well over a year, broadcasters, media outlets, electronics manufacturers, consumer advocates, and the government have been pounding the U.S. public over the year with the announcement that February 17, 2009, would be the day analog television broadcasts switch off in the United States. After that date, consumers who rely on over-the-air broadcast television had better have a TV with a digital tuner or obtain a digital TV converter box, or their television will show nothing but snow, 24 hours a day.
In order to ease the transition, the U.S. government has been offering $40 vouchers toward the purchase of digital television converter boxes, so consumers who rely on over-the-air broadcasts won’t be cut off from important news and information sources. But now that the voucher program is on the verge of running out of money, president elect Barack Obama’s transition team has been in touch with senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) and Amy Klobucher (D-MN) about delaying the digital TV transition in order to ensure consumers are able to make the transition smoothly—and Rockefeller and Klobucher have come out in favor of the move. The senators have not proposed a new date for an analog broadcast shutoff.
“I’ve long believed that there is too much at stake for consumers and for public safety to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best when it comes to the digital television transition,” Rockefeller said in a statement Thursday. “Millions of Americans could be left in the dark if this doesn’t go smoothly.”
Representative Edward Markey, the outgoing chair of the House’s telecommunications subcommittee, sounded the alarm about the voucher program running dry before the transition…but he’s not very keen on delaying the DTV switchover due to the massive amount of momentum and publicity that has already been put into the current transition date. Changing the date would create confusion not only in the industry, but amongst impacted consumers. Markey has proposed legislation (PDF) that would make additional DTV converter coupons available, without changing the date of the DTV switch.