Television's Possible Digital Delay: What Comes Next?

Hold everything, and strike Feb. 17 from your calendar. According to a number of concerned parties, the federal plan to change TV signals to all digital by that date isn't working. There's a bigger question: What else will be postponed?

Right now, the Federal government program of giving coupons to consumers for converting their TVs from analog to digital signals is out of money.

Now a powerful congressman, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee's telecom committee, is strongly considering a delay. Consumers Union also wants a postponement, and even the incoming Obama administration wants to put a halt to things.

What happened? Bad planning? The honest truth is that while many in the U.S. are technologically savvy, a bunch of other Americans aren't in the game -- mostly because of personal financial issues that existed even before the current recession.

It was perhaps too easily assumed a digital TV changeover could be handled smoothly, since any growing technology marketplace is usually accompanied by falling prices for equipment and service.

Now, it appears millions of U.S. television viewers will still be out of the loop once Feb. 17 comes along. For public-minded broadcasters, that means those Americans can't be communicated to in case of emergency. (One wonders how many of those same homes also have mobile phones.)

It comes down to leaving rural, low-income and elderly citizens in the dark --along with some kids as well, according to PBS officials, who are worried that too many children only have access to "un-tethered" TV sets.

What we are talking about here is a chasm between the big shiny TV technological world and the reality that some people can ill afford to go along with what the rest of the country is presumably doing.  

There's a perception, for example, among certain quarters that a majority of U.S. TV owners have time-shifting machines. That is not the case -- only 30% of U.S. TV households do, and some analysts believe that number won't grow to more than 50%.

Now, with a recession in our midst, many TV households may be not only unable to buy DVRs, but to upgrade to simpler TV digital signal delivery.

This means a delay in long-term federal plans for an all-digital U.S. TV world.  And a struggling marketplace means other high-tech TV-related promises will be put off as well. Start guessing



5 comments about "Television's Possible Digital Delay: What Comes Next?".
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  1. Christopher Neer from Interlex, January 9, 2009 at 11:09 a.m.

    This comes as no big shock whatsoever given the state of the economy and jobs...people are concerned about paying their "worthless" mortgages and feeding their kids, not dealing with TV "upgrades". It could be another year or two.

  2. Linda Lopez from Independent, January 9, 2009 at 11:36 a.m.

    I could have told them, but they never asked. Even without the economic downturn, this was a changeover that couldn't have gone smoothly. Here's an interesting example: The discount coupons have an expiration date, but there is nothing in the literature accompanying them that mentions a deadline. So people are putting the coupons aside until they have time/money to redeem them with a purchase, and often finding when they get to the store that the coupon has expired. Of course, upon closer inspection, they see it right there on the coupon, it's only good for 90 days. But they're out of luck because the TV Converter Box Coupon Program doesn't reissue them. Thanks for your excellent overview on how things stand right now.

  3. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, January 9, 2009 at 11:45 a.m.

    Frightening that the government is unable to handle something that should have been relatively straightforward and simple; more frightening that so many people want to put as much decision and caretaking power as possible in the hands of this same hapless, inefficient leviathan.

    The reality is, even tech savvy people have only a vague answer to 'why' when it comes to this conversion. The people in the demographics said to be 'lagging' are not just those that can't afford it but those who overwhelmingly don't care, or don't understand why they should care. Does my grandmother have an answer strong enough to motivate her to go and do this? She doesn't have a motivator strong enough to get her to go to the doctor for a diabetes check up, and now she's going to convert her TV to digital? Yeah, right. These are all people who will NEVER convert until after the fact, when suddenly the answer to 'Why' becomes obvious.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 9, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    1. Outside of the planning concerning unnecessary expiration dates and NOW they figure they are running out of money, who thought anyone in the present administration could administer it by themselves (includes involving overpaid actors/sports figures/music thingys throwing in the extra 20 bucks so people can watch them) ?

    2. The let's not offend anyone defense. Straight talk ads. Your choice: Cable OR Disk OR Converter Box OR no TV. No exceptions. If you can plug in your toaster, you can plug in the converter box plug. Take the other end and twist it in. You get the picture.

    3. If you think people have been lazy about not bothering to keep track of their expenses by buying too much house etc., not using arithmetic to add up what things cost, not bother reading something before they commit, not asking and finding out information in the most information available era in history about what they do not know, does anyone think in the slightest way there won't be some people who cannot get number 2 ?

    4. Exceptions to above are the elderly and physically/mentally challenged who need outside help. See number 1. If the 20 bucks are such a problem, see number 1 again.

  5. Joseph May from Check The Gate Productions, January 9, 2009 at 4:33 p.m.

    This was a stupid idea from the start. Did anyone hear of the word "monolopy"? If I want to watch my old little black and white t.v., so what? No one should ever be required to change their way of life because of a certain media wants to change the way "they" view televison.

    What's next. People can't drive cars older than five years old?

    Let's get real. If I want something extra, like highdef, cable, dish, whatever, then I can pay for it. Otherwise, get off my back.

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