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Inaction delays switch to digital TV

Digital TV switch delayed because many failed to act

A media blitz has been alerting the public for months that television would change forever on Feb. 17. That was the date set for the conversion of television signals from analog to digital transmissions.

Cable TV operators, broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers, community groups and the government have collectively spent at least $1.3 billion to tell consumers about the transition to digital television.

Broadcasters spent more than $1 billion on consumer education. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the cable industry trade group, said it has spent $225 million on educational spots, mostly on TV. Individual cable and satellite TV companies also did their own ads.

Congress also appropriated $35 million for the Federal Communications Commission to pay for consumer outreach, education and consumer call centers.

Consumer electronics makers spent millions to run radio and print ads, as well as give out educational brochures featuring Florence Henderson, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Congress approved another $1.5 billion for a program offering $40 coupons to consumers to help pay for digital to analog TV converters.

Still, Nielsen Media Research reported that more than 6 million households still aren't ready.

The Obama administration stepped in, pushing to delay the switch after funding for a federal subsidy program ran out Jan. 5.

"Consumers throughout America . . . will lose access to essential news and information" if the deadline isn't extended, said Joel Kelsey, policy analyst with Consumers Union. "Even if they tried to act six weeks early, they couldn't, because the coupon program melted down."

President Obama has devoted $650 million of the new economic stimulus package in part to help replenish the program. Only about 20 million of the 46.5 million total coupons issued have been used. They expire after 90 days and cannot be renewed, but a Senate bill may change that. There are currently 2.6 million people on a waiting list.

The Senate passed a bill to delay the transition to June 12. After initially balking at the delay, the House on Wednesday voted to follow the Senate and approved the delay to June 12.

Just because the government delays the date it requires broadcasters to turn off their analog signals doesn't mean your set will work until then. Hawaii and Wilmington, N.C., have already transitioned. Locally, WEDU will move ahead with the original date. The Senate bill allows stations to make their own decisions about when to switch as long as they follow the FCC's rules in the process.

Analog is expensive, so broadcasters are in favor of going to digital earlier. Analog transmitters use more energy and are more costly to maintain. The dilemma lies in the possibility of losing viewers who are still unprepared and, therefore, advertising dollars.

Acting FCC chairman Michael J. Copps says this may lead to transition in phases, perhaps region by region. The Gulf Coast states, for example, could transition before the Atlantic hurricane season starts June. 1.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Inaction delays switch to digital TV 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 3:30am]

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