Poor Get "Snow(Ed)" in T.V. Reception
William Reed €" WI Contributing Writer | 2/9/2009, 2:11 p.m.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the DTV Delay Act to postpone the Digital Transition date from Feb. 17, 2009 to June 12. Digital Transition will end the era of analog broadcast television as the nation's television stations go to all-digital systems. Congress mandated the conversion to all-digital television broadcasting because all-digital distribution will free up airwave frequencies for public safety communications (such as police, fire, and emergency rescue).
Digital is also a more efficient transmission technology that allows broadcast stations to offer improved picture and sound quality, as well as offer consumers more programming options through multiple broadcast streams (multicasting). In addition, some of the freed up frequencies will be used by private companies for advanced commercial wireless services for consumers.
UHF and VHF are the most commonly used frequency bands for transmission of television signals. Consumers who receive over-the-air television signals through antennas on television sets equipped with analog tuners - and who do not subscribe to cable, satellite or a telephone company television service provider - will be affected by the transition.
The reason for the need for a delay is that Congress initially allocated only enough money for the neediest in the nation to get the coupons. But, when broadcasters blitzed the airwaves with $1 billion worth of ads encouraging the less needy to apply for the coupons it contributed to a shortage of coupons for the needy.
The delay is a victory for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress, who maintain that the George Bush administration mismanaged efforts to ensure that all consumers - particularly poor, rural and minority Americans - would be prepared for the switchover. Obama's administration sought the delay because the government program to provide coupons for converter boxes needs more money and time to find funding for the two million-deep voucher waiting list. Demand for the government coupons for converter boxes that allow old TVs to receive the new digital signals was been higher than expected.
At least 19.6 million households receive over-the-air signals exclusively in their homes, and 14.9 million households have secondary over-the-air television sets in bedrooms or kitchens. Overall, nearly 70 million television sets risk losing their signals. The Nielsen Co. says 12.5 percent of African American households, 1.7 million television viewers with analog sets, that use rooftop antennas or "rabbit ears" risk losing their TV signal if they do not request converter box coupons.
Ending analog broadcasts frees up valuable space in the nation's airwaves for commercial wireless services and emergency-response networks. The federal government is pocketing $19 billion from selling the analog TV spectrum while people with analog TVs have to spend their own money to purchase converter boxes.
This validates the fact that everyone affected by the digital switch should, at least, be able to get $40 coupons to buy converter boxes €" which generally cost between $40 and $80 each.
The coordination for the transition had been in place for years. The delay will be optional for broadcasters, hundreds of whom are being negatively affected. Public Broadcasting System (PBS) president and CEO Paula Kerger said, "Delaying the digital TV transition four months will cost public broadcasters $22 million" and stations will face increased power charges to maintain over-the-air broadcast signals.
She said many have leases for signal transmitters that were due to expire on the initial date of the switch over and will have to make new arrangements. The National Association of Broadcasters will provide television spots to promote the June 12 deadline toward raising consumer awareness and helping them prepare.
If Congress sets aside more money for digital TV coupons, this time the money should be directed to the poor, not billionaires. Consumers who want to keep using their analog TV antennas can purchase a TV converter box using a $40 government coupon.
The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration run the TV Converter Box Coupon Program. Households can apply for up to two coupons online at www.DTV2009.gov, by calling 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009), or by mail to PO Box 2000, Portland, Ore. 97208.