Feds Fumble Handoff to Digital TV

February 17th, 2009 | Sources: Washington Post


A decade ago, the US government decided we should switch from analog to digital TV. It was a no-brainer. People would get improved reception and the Feds would rake in $20 billion by selling the analog spectrum to cell phone carriers.

The only problem was wiring 20 million US households that watched the tube the old fashioned way. Many of them rely on TV for news about things like impending floods, severe weather and other life-threatening events.

Low income, elderly and Hispanic viewers were particularly likely to be analog users.

These people needed a converter box which cost $80. Senator Ed Markey reasoned government was going to profit from the transition, so it should pay for the boxes.

He wanted to give consumers two $60 coupons each, which would cost $4 billion. Republicans said what are you crazy and capped the program at $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the FCC thought the NTIA was supposed to do consumer education but the NTIA was dead in the water due to laughably frequent leadership changes. It turned out the FCC was supposed to do it.

Now the deadline was approaching and the people wanted their coupons.

Not a problem, the NTIA told Congress in November. “The coupon program has both sufficient funds and system processing capabilities to…distribute…more than 50 million coupons (in time)…and to do so without…a backlog.”

So on January 4 the coupon program ran out of money and millions had no coupons.

And Congress had mandated that the coupons be distributed third class mail which we think involves horses and buggies so it was taking a month to get there anyway.

“Millions of Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned,” sighed the Big O upon signing a bill postponing implementation for 4 months.


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