Today’s DTV Switch

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AntennaeIn what has been described as, “the most significant advancement of television technology since color TV was introduced,” the U.S. Congress declared today, February 17th, 2009, to be the date on which over-the-air broadcasters must cease their analog signal in favor of DTV. In preparation for this nation-wide switchover, the federal government gave away $890 million worth of coupons so consumers could purchase digital-to-analog converter boxes.

Things started to go awry when the supply of coupons ran out well before the demand stopped. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) now has a waiting list of households that still haven’t received coupons. To make matters worse, despite the incessant stream of PSAs alerting viewers of the upcoming switch to digital, many people didn’t understand what was going to happen or if they would be affected.

To help ease the transition, and so that households across the country wouldn’t suddenly be left without T.V. at all, the switchover date was pushed back to June 12th, 2009. This means that all T.V. stations will continue to broadcast their analog signal while the NTIA hurries to distribute coupons. Right? That’s what it means, right? All T.V. stations are delaying their switch?

What? They’re not? Hmm.

In fact, very few T.V. stations are going to be extended their analog broadcasts beyond today. Because stations have had their transition schedules in place for so long, the FCC gave stations the option to make the switch on the original date - 491 stations stated their intention to do so. After a review, it announced it would allow 368 of the 491 stations to go all-digital on February 17th. On top of that, over 190 stations have already shut off their analog signals.

Throughout this whole process, viewers have been getting the short end of the stick, and a major part of the problem has been the converter box coupon program. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea. After all, since the government is forcing viewers to buy new hardware in order to view television, they should have to pay for it, right? Well, no. Television is a privilege, not a right. You have to buy your own T.V. in order to watch the signal, so why shouldn’t consumers have to buy their own converter boxes? While getting a federally-funded discount on our converter boxes was nice, I think a lot of people are unprepared for (what was supposed to be) today’s transition because they haven’t bought converter boxes yet. People undoubtedly have the mentality that, “the government hasn’t sent me my converter box coupon yet, so I can’t go buy one.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. A better program would have been for the NTIA to have issued rebates; that would have helped ensure that people would have bought their converter boxes in time.

Morah and I were prepared. We bought our converter boxes in November, and just recently we bought a DTV antenna to improve our reception. Overall, however, we have been thoroughly unimpressed. Remember back in the analog days when you’d spend fifteen minutes tweaking the rabbit ears until they were just so and signal, while not perfect, was watchable? Yeah, we’re pretty much back to that. Even with the special signal-boosting antenna, we still end up goofing around with the rabbit ears in a futile attempt to get a clear signal. We’re constantly plagued by digital artifacting and intermittent audio, both of which are made worse by inclement weather.

From its inception, this whole process has been a ridiculous farce. The original transition plan was rather straightforward, and if viewers were too lazy to make the required preparations, they don’t deserve to watch television. Changing the date has done more harm than good by confusing viewers further. If stations were required to continue broadcasting their analog signal, the extension might have helped, but since that’s not the case, viewers will continue to be bemused.

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