Saturday, January 31, 2009

Making the Digital Switch Soon

By the middle of the year, the United States will be an all-digital TV nation. The exact date of the switchover will be either February 17 or June 12, depending on whether or not Congress decides to delay the conversion. As of this morning, January 31, the switch is still scheduled to take effect February 17.

I say let’s keep it that way. A delay will do nothing more than add to the confusion of those who are already confused.

The world has been planning a switch to digital television for a decade. Some countries, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and Sweden to name a few, have already made the switch. Others are in the process of switching now.

It has been two years since Congress passed the law mandating that the conversion to digital take place on February 17. Since then, consumers have been able to order coupons to help defray the cost of purchasing a digital converter box. But you only need one of the boxes in the event that you watch television using rabbit ears or an outside antenna and the TV is more than three years old.

If you have a newer television, manufactured since 2005, or if you get your programming from cable, telephone, or satellite providers, then you don’t need to do anything. You’re already set for the change.

Those who are pressing for a delay, including Pres. Barack Obama, say that as many as six million Americans are not yet ready for the switch. They point out that the government has been slow in sending out the coupons and that money has run out to continue the coupon program.

Well, tough. Procrastinators are often left behind and suffer the consequences for their slow action. I can’t imagine anyone with a television who hasn’t been bombarded dozens of times a day with announcements from local TV stations about the coming change. It started way more than a year ago and has been incessant. If you don’t know by now that the changeover date is February 17, then you probably don’t watch TV often enough to be affected much.

The current date set for the change represents at least two previous delays. Another delay will mean very little to those who are going to be affected; they would be affected if you gave them another 10 years.

Wilmington, NC made the switch last September. There was some degree of chaos, but it quickly got ironed out. Hawaii made the switch January 15. A few states and cities are making the bold move of turning off analog signals early. But in the long run, they will be ahead of the game.

The FCC has already auctioned off the frequencies that are to be made available when TV becomes all digital. Television stations are losing money by simulcasting all their programming in both digital and analog. Let them use that money to help develop the clearest high-definition picture possible, the upcoming 1080p standard.

When the switchover is made, whether on February 17 or June 12, there will be those left without a signal. There will be those who are confused and angry. But that will happen no matter when the switch occurs. Let it happen. I guarantee those who are really at a disadvantage when the analog plug is pulled will make all haste in upgrading their equipment, something they should have been planning for years.

Within a month or so, everyone will be back on the couch again, enjoying their favorite programs, in digital. It might as well occur sooner as later.

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