With the flick of a switch (metaphorically, of course), the U.S. was supposed to join the other technologically advanced countries of the world and begin broadcasting television in an all-digital format. However, our government, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to delay the original February 17, 2009, switch-over date until mid-June, 2009. There was so much acrimony over changing the date, the government made it optional. Perfect. If people weren’t confused before…
Why the fuss, Max? I’ll tell you why. This just doesn’t add up. Nielsen estimates around 6.5 million viewers would be without TV if the switch happened on the original schedule. Our current administration thinks there will be a disparate impact upon those who haven’t had a chance to get the converter box coupon. There may be such fallout but if the government thinks delaying the program will change that number proportionally, then they are grossly mistaken.
Beyond the impact to a small demographic, TV stations are now painted into a corner. After spending millions of dollars to ensure they can broadcast on the digital spectrum come February 17th, stations are now given a choice of sorts. To continue broadcasting on the analog frequencies, thus changing their intended plans, stations will be required to pay thousands per day to hold out until June. On the other hand, they can switch now, save themselves some money but look like they don’t care about those who aren’t prepared. In other words, the government has suddenly pulled the ultimate switch, dodging the pressure of forcing the change, and laying the blame squarely upon the local affiliates. What a ridiculous set of circumstances.
I think this fix is pretty simple. We should change over in February. We should continue to fund the coupon program and get that back into shape as quickly as possible. Part of fixing that program requires a recall of sorts, bringing back all the unused and expired coupons. Oh, and just so you know, owners of coupons are not allowed to profiteer from selling those coupons. I’m not sure what agency will be responsible for monitoring those transactions on eBay and Craigs List but perhaps the IRS have some spare time this April? Maybe not. Once the coupon program is re-funded, the transition continues. Do you really think all 6.5 million people will take significant steps towards fixing their circumstances? I’m guessing, come June, the numbers will look similar so what will be the excuse then?