This editorial appeared in The Rock Hill Herald.
With all the challenges facing Barack Obama and members of his new administration, we're surprised that they would devote any energy to the issue of the switchover from analog to digital television broadcasting.
In a letter to key lawmakers this month, Obama transition team co-chairman John Podesta said the Feb. 17 digital transition needs to be delayed. The Obama team is worried that because the Commerce Department has run out of money for coupons to subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers, people who don't have cable or satellite service will be TV-less when the switch is made.
Millions of Americans who still rely on rabbit ears or rusty roof antennas to watch TV on a non-digital set are at risk of seeing their screens go black on Feb. 17. Nearly 2 million people are on a waiting list for $40 government coupons to help defray the cost of a converter box, which costs $50 to $80.
Unfortunately, the government has used up all the money it set aside for coupons. So, those on the waiting list are not likely to get their coupons by the transition date unless Congress approves money for more coupons.
That wouldn't necessarily make the program more expensive. Millions of original coupons expired without being used as many people, no doubt, decided to buy a new TV instead of a converter box.
Unfortunately, those most likely to be left in the lurch are the poor who can't afford cable and haven't bought a new TV in years. We would have more sympathy for them, however, if the plan to make the transition to digital broadcasting hadn't been in the works for years. The switch was approved in 2005, and President George Bush signed a law compelling the transition in early 2006.
Many of those who can't afford a new TV should be able to afford a $50 converter box. And if they are willing to wait, they probably will get a coupon from the government to defray that cost.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Rock Hill Herald.