Yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved legislation to delay the transition to digital TV to June 13. The House is expected to follow suit as soon as this afternoon.
Under current law, television stations would cease broadcasting analog signals on February 18, potentially inconveniencing dozens of Americans who rely on over-the-air signals and have yet to purchase a subsidized converter box. “They’ve had several years to do so, but who could blame them for getting distracted?,” asks Joel Johnson. “Television has been pretty awesome over the last few years.”
Members of Congress, fearful of a flood of telephone calls following the switchover, are taking the matter seriously. “I warn those who would stand in the way, who dismiss my sense of urgency, that should they force us to keep to our current course, it is the American public who will bear the brunt of their opposition,” said Sen. John Rockefeller, sponsor of the legislation. “We owe our citizens so much more than this.”
Rockefeller is adament that Congress will not allow any further delay past June 13.
But, say observers, even that date is not carved in stone. In the weeks leading up to the switchover, Newsweek and the Consumers Union are expected to track down and interview “at-risk consumers” unprepared for the transition, which may spark further congressional action. Without still more months of heavy public-service advertising on the transition, they are expected to argue, “rural, low-income and elderly citizens across the country could be left with blank television screens.”