Early next week, the Senate will vote on a bill that would postpone the country’s switch to all-digital television, citing the nation’s lack of preparedness as the reason for the delay.
The bill would move the switch back four months to June 12, giving consumers more time to acquire converter boxes. According to the Nielsen Co., “more than 6.5 million U.S. households are still not prepared for the upcoming transition and could see their television sets go dark next month.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) are working to draft legislation that also would give consumers more access to coupons for the converter boxes needed to continue receiving broadcasts. It was recently reported that these coupons were running short of demand, and some consumers would have to wait until funds from unredeemed coupons became available. Currently, three million people are on a waiting list for the vouchers.
“The shameful truth is that we are not poised to do this transition right,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “We are only weeks away from doing it dreadfully wrong – and leaving consumers with the consequences.”
Currently, television broadcasters are scheduled to turn off their analog signals on Feb. 17, requiring consumers with an analog television to install a converter box to receive broadcasts.
The proposed bill would allow television stations to turn off their analog signals before June 12, and public safety agencies would be allowed to use those airwaves as soon as they are available (which is the original intent of the switch itself, creating more space on the air for agencies like police and fire departments). The bill would also allow consumers with expired coupons to re-apply for new ones.
Earlier this month, President Obama urged Congress to postpone the transition, due to growing evidence that consumers are not prepared. The program to subsidize the converter boxes already reached the $1.34 billion limit of its budgetary authority during the first week of January.