It’s official: The deadline for the digital transition will be extended until June 12. Next on the agenda is dealing with confusions old and new.
“The additional four months provided by the law affords urgently needed time for a more phased transition, including a consumer-friendly converter box coupon program, stepped-up consumer outreach and support – particularly for vulnerable populations – and dealing with coverage, antenna and reception issues that went too long unaddressed,” said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.
Copps’ statement is one of the first acknowledgements by a ranking official that there are still technological issues to be addressed. CED has for months been receiving communications from individual engineers who have reported that digital terrestrial signal coverage is sometimes lacking in areas well within various stations’ advertised broadcast radius.
Meanwhile, there are millions of consumers who are still unprepared for the end of analog terrestrial TV broadcasts. A smaller number of viewers, still counted in the millions, remain completely unaware of the transition. Education programs will be ongoing.
FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said, “Moving forward, we need to re-establish the converter box coupon program, make sure we are prepared to answer the flood of phone calls we can clearly anticipate, and establish a field operation to provide on-the-ground assistance to those who need it.”
The government’s program to provide coupons to help defray the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes ran out of money weeks ago. Congress plans to replenish that fund in the stimulus bill still being debated. Even if that bill were to pass soon, it would be weeks before the money was actually disbursed and the program revived, reports The New York Times (story here; registration required).
And even though the deadline has been extended, some markets are going to stick to the Feb. 17 deadline, and others will be able to make the switch whenever they’re ready up to June 12. Any confusion created in markets that elect to conform to the original deadline (Portland, Ore., is one) will have to deal with relying on the limited resources now available.