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New Snags in the Digital TV Transition - Moola

by June 11, 2008
Dont forget to get yerself one of them new fangled converter boxes for yer fancy TV before its too late.

Don't forget to get yerself one of them new fangled converter boxes for yer fancy TV before it's too late.

The Congressionally mandated switch to digital broadcasting on February 19, 2009 may face another obstacle besides senior citizens who have no idea that their TV’s will go out and youngsters who don’t care about analog anything: Money. There's not enough of it to guarantee everyone a box.

According to Reuters, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the branch of the Commerce Department overseeing the transition, reported to congress that more money might be needed to continue mailing out the $40 government subsidy coupons for digital to analog converters intended to ease the burden for consumer through the transition.

The program currently has a budget of $1.5 billion to subsidize 33.5 million converter box purchases.  The money problem, it seems, stems from the questionable decision to put an expiration date on the coupons limiting them to 90 days of usefulness.  Seems people have been requesting the coupons but not using them in the allotted time frame so now the government is going to have to mail out a whole lot of new coupons.

The NTIA began mailing the coupons on February 21st of this year and as of June 3rd, 16 million coupon requests have been requested but only 42% of them have been redeemed before the expiration date.  While the government gets the unused subsidy funds back into the program for reallocation, there is not enough in the budget for the additional stamps to do so.

Progress in the digital TV transition by the government has come under scrutiny for poor management before.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress last November about the underwhelming level of planning and coordination by the FCC and the NTIA to develop a comprehensive formal plan to manage the transition with set goals, progress milestones, or contingencies for complications that will inevitably arise.  FCC Chairman Kevin Martin disagrees with the GAO planning assessment; he thinks all is rosy because it's all been mentioned in the FCC docket.  But FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein echoed the GAO sentiment about the lack of coordination as well.  Other problems also exist at the private end as well.  Between retailers who sell televisions to consumers that are equally clueless about the transition to those who want to dump analog TV inventory before they have to eat it, there looks to be problems aplenty.

The NTIA currently claims that they are not asking congress for additional funds but they are awaiting a more complete cost forecast after July 1st as more data comes in.

Seems that the decision to set an arbitrary 90 day deadline to use the subsidy coupons once received was not such a good idea after all. Of course simply making an announcement that it is extending the coupon deadline date or making the coupons available online would be preposterous (yes, that was sarcasm). No, the federal government apparently feels it must continue on it's paper-based method of disseminating coupons via mail. Anything else would indicate the presence of some brain activity n Washington - and we're fairly convinced there is little of that.

About the author:
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Professionally, David engineers building structures. He is also a musician and audio enthusiast. David gives his perspective about loudspeakers and complex audio topics from his mechanical engineering and HAA Certified Level I training.

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