Months of "the sky is falling!" news stories have all led up to this: the Senate today voted unanimously to postpone the transition from analog to digital television from Feb. 17 to June 12.
Apparently, according to the Nielsen Co., more than 6.5 million households in the U.S. that rely on analog television - the old-fashioned kind that comes through an antenna, rather than a digital cable box - would be unprepared for the changeover and would lose all television reception if the date were not to be pushed back.
The House of Representatives still has to vote on the bill, where a committee vote has been scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday).
The need to push the transition back a few months became apparent when the government ran out of money to fund coupons for folks who couldn't afford special boxes they could purchase to enable their televisions to still pick up a signal. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Commerce Department agency running the program, has nearly 2.6 million people on waiting lists for coupons. New coupons are only being sent out as old ones that haven't been redeemed expire.Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal policy at Consumers Union, said low-income and elderly viewers are the ones who will suffer most from the transition.
The government has failed to deliver the converter boxes these people deserve just to keep watching free, over-the-air broadcast signals.
The boxes cost $40 to $80 apiece and capture the digital signal, transforming it into analog for the old TVs.
The reason the transition was mandated at all in 2005 was to free up space for emergency-response networks and commercial wireless services.