Will A Delayed Analog TV Shutdown Fix the Transition? Not Likely.

digtv120-thumb.gifThe analog TV shutdown, at this writing, is still scheduled for 17 February; a proposal in Congress, supported by now-President Obama, would push that to 12 June. Would that solve any problems? For me personally, here in Palo Alto, Calif., yes; construction crews will be moving digital antennas around at the Sutro Tower broadcast site into the summer, a February shutdown is likely to leave me getting most my news and entertainment from the Internet until then.

For the nation as a whole, not likely. The reason for the proposed delay is that the coupon program has, on paper, run out of money; we need to wait until the program is better funded and more folks have an opportunity to order, receive, and cash in coupons. I'm just not getting how 12 June would be so much better than 17 February. Note that while more coupons have been requested than have been budgeted for, not all have been redeemed.

Here are the numbers. About 47,000,000 coupons have been mailed. Nearly 20,000,000 have been redeemed for boxes, 14,000,000 have expired. Another 2,500,000 people or so have requested coupons, but can't get them until more of the ones sent out expire. So giving folks more time to get their coupons before the transition day, it seems, would make everyone happy. That all makes sense when you just look at the numbers.

But look instead at what is likely going on behind those numbers. OK, 47,000,000 people saw the ads on TV urging them to get a coupon. They're not entirely sure if they need a coupon or not, but just in case, they'll order one. At least 14,000,000 and likely more whose coupons have yet to expire got the coupon in the mail and then forgot about it, realized that they hadn't understood the ads, that they have cable and don't need a coupon, or they subsequently bought a digital TV or are thinking about it. Or have simply stopped thinking about it at all. Some of these folks won't think about it again until the analog signal goes dark; then they'll want a new coupon, but won't be allowed to order it (two per household, expired or not). They won't be happy, whether shutdown is 17 February or 12 June.

Then there are the 20,000,000 who bought the boxes. Some, like me, installed them, and are either happily receiving a digital signal or have figured out that converting is going to be a lot more complex than simply installing a box. Based on anecdotal evidence, that's not a big number.

Instead, far more put that converter box package unopened in the closet, not understanding that while analog shutdown hasn't happened yet, they still can hook it up and start using it right now. They understood the message of the vast advertising campaign to mean that on 17 February they're going to have to hook up this box, and with a box in the closet, they feel prepared to do that. What they won't know until they hook it up is whether they'll need a new antenna, new wiring, or will be able to receive digital signals at all. Others are waiting to buy the box, some with a coupon, some just on their own, until analog shutdown happens.

These folks, no one knows exactly how many, are who will determine whether analog shutdown is a success or a nightmare. And we won't find out their stories until shutdown happens, be it 17 February or 12 June.

So turn it off already. And then figure out if more money needs to be put into the program, whether it's for more converter subsidies, or for installing new antennas on the roofs of senior citizens, or for subsidizing cable for low-income folks in digital dead zones.

See more of Spectrumâ''s coverage of the Day Analog TV Dies here.


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