Thursday, February 5, 2009

Deadline schmeadline. Hard cutoff date for analog TV broadcasts not so firm after all

Just kidding, America. You know all those ads and public service announcements you’ve been seeing for over a year now about the last day for analog TV broadcasts being Feb. 17, 2009. Well, we weren’t serious after all.
That’s the message Congress is sending with its passage of a bill today to extend the digital television transition date by four months until June 12. President Barack Obama has pledged to sign the bill into law.
The move was strictly political. Lawmakers were worried about upsetting constituents who aren’t ready for the change. (Read: procrastinators.)
The delay will impact emergency responders who are waiting for the freed-up wireless spectrum for enhanced communications. The delay also will postpone the launch of new commercial wireless Internet services that will use some of the spectrum.
Measuring service Nielsen estimates that 5.8 million U.S. households — or 5.1% of all homes — are not ready for the upcoming transition to all-digital broadcasting. The least prepared segments of the population are African-Americans (8.7% unready), Hispanics (8.5%) and people under 35 (8.6%), Nielsen reported Feb. 5.
Households affected are those with analog TV sets that receive over-the-air programming with antennas. They need to get special converter boxes, which the federal government is subsidizing. People with cable, satellite or telco television are not affected because those services already use converter boxes.
News flash: Americans will never be 100% ready for the analog-to-digital TV switchover. Come June 12, there is likely to be a set of stubborn, lazy, ignorant or very poor people who still haven’t made the switch. I’m estimating 2% to 3% of U.S. households will not be ready by the new date. Stay tuned.

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