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The Politics of Digital TV

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Authored by Jon Mercer in Movies and Television
Published on 02-13-2009

In order to receive the new digital television signal that stations will be broadcasting in a couple of weeks, some people will need a converter box. But there is a problem; it seems there is a shortage of the converter boxes that people need to receive an over-the-air digital television signal. According to the Federal Communication Commission, the Consumer Electronics Association has three to six million converter boxes available for sale, but at the rate the boxes are being sold, they could deplete the supply within a month.

Most of these converters will be bought with government issued coupons; however, Congress didn’t allow enough money for the coupons, so the waiting list has been building since December. New coupons are only mailed out when the old ones expire unused. So there are now requests for 3.7 million coupons on hold.

So what happens when the deadline for the digital switch comes and everyone doesn’t have a converter box? Well, Congress will approve the new money for the converter box program as part of the stimulus bill, and by the time that is approved, there should be a new stock of converters on store shelves.

At the request of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party has tried to move the switch back to June 12. The bill failed to pass however, because nearly all of the Republicans representatives voted against it. Recently, the Senate voted unanimously for a nearly identical bill to delay the switch. It will be taken up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week and is scheduled for a full vote shortly thereafter. This version of the bill is expected to pass.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been waiting to receive your coupon for $40 in the mail to assist you with the digital switch, you may be waiting a bit longer. The new deadline for the switch will most likely be June 12, but the stimulus bill is still held up by the Senate. When the money for the new coupons is finally allocated, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which runs the converter coupon program, will begin sending them out to people on the waiting list.

Also, if you did receive a coupon but have procrastinated about redeeming it, the bill includes a clause that will allow for the reissue of coupons that weren’t redeemed within the ninety day deadline. Unfortunately, this clause also will not take effect until the stimulus bill is finally signed into law.

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