Senate OKs unnecessary delay to digital TV switch

Every night for the past couple of months, the weather person on one of my local TV news programs has been counting down the days to the nation's switch to digital television. I can almost say it in my sleep: In February 17, the old analog signals will turn off to make way for all-digital broadcasts, which means that viewers watching analog over-the-air broadcasts will lose access to their programming.

Every night for the past couple of months, the weather person on one of my local TV news programs has been counting down the days to the nation's switch to digital television. I can almost say it in my sleep: In February 17, the old analog signals will turn off to make way for all-digital broadcasts, which means that viewers watching analog over-the-air broadcasts will lose access to their programming.

Today, the Senate approved a four-month delay to the deadline, agreeing to extend it to June 12. The House is preparing similar legislation.

So - with 90 percent of the population reportedly ready for the switch - the U.S. government is ready to issue a delay because there are some people who still aren't ready. An Associated Press report says an estimated 6.5 million U.S households aren't ready while Reuters puts that figure at 20 million - mostly the poor, the elderly and those living in rural areas.

SIGH. Was this a case of the public being caught off-guard? Hardly. You pretty much have to have been living under a rock for the past year or so to not have heard about the digital transformation. The news has been everywhere. The National Association of Broadcasters has gone into communities to answer questions. There have been newspaper ads, radio public service announcements, messages scrolled across the screen during popular television shows.

And yet, there are those who still aren't ready.

Last week, after the House Democrats cancelled a meeting related to the delay because of opposition by Republicans, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois said that further delay would just cause more confusion. He said, "No matter when you postpone it, there are still going to be people who are not ready."

He's right. There will always be people who won't be ready. But with so many others - viewers, stations and those who bought the rights to use that freed-up spectrum - ready to move on, the government should do exactly that. Last week, PBS said a four-month delay could cost $22 million, including the costs of extending signal transmitter leases that were set to expire on the switch-over date.

Likewise, companies that bid on that wireless spectrum have plans for it, plans that could now be impacted by a delay. Among those reportedly lobbying hardest against the delay is Qualcomm, which is ready for the wireless space to be freed so it can launch its MediaFLO mobile TV service in new markets.

By all means, let's get that digital signal into the homes that don't have it as quickly as possible. But at the same time, let's not hold up the rest of the country because - and let's be truthful about it - a handful of people didn't plan accordingly. There's was plenty of advanced notice. For those who failed to act in a timely manner, maybe it's time to curl up with a good book until they can get their hands on a converter box.

What do you think? Better to delay or time to move on? Cast your vote in the poll below.

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