While federal lawmakers have extended the deadline to switch from analog to digital television to June 12th — some stations are still converting to digital today (February 17th) — the original date for the switch.
Iowa State University journalism and communications professor, Jeff Blevins, says he thinks the switch will be beneficial in the end, but says the planning for the change wasn’t the best. Blevins says the government did a good job of helping TV stations make the expensive switch.
Blevins says the problem is that the government ignored the demand side and the fact that consumers were going to have to pay for new digital TV sets. Blevins says he used to joke that he could hardly imagine a government subsidy for everyone to get a digital TV set, but he says that’s kind of what this has come down to. Blevins says the planners guessed wrong on how the consumer demand for digital TV
He says there was an expectation that once the deadline for switching to digital TV was set, that people would go out and buy a digital TV. But, he says with the economic downturn, that did not happen. The government planned for four million digital converter box coupons, but they got twice as many requests.
Blevins says delaying the digital switch makes sense as it gives them time to see what the remaining need is. Blevins says there’s some thought that people requested coupons but aren’t going to use them before they expire, and so there will be more funds available than was anticipated. He says the downside is the delay causes more confusion over which stations are analog and which ones are digital. Blevins says rural areas of the state have the biggest concern and problems with getting service.
Blevins says the digital signal isn’t as strong and doesn’t travel as far because it uses a larger bandwidth. So the farther you are away from a tower, the tougher it is to get the signal and then you have to find out if you can get cable or satellite. Blevins says digital television will eventually be a better thing for everyone.
"We’re going to have some growing pains in the meantime though in terms of bearing the cost of the transition and figuring out how the technology works," Blevins says. He says there are going to be a lot of questions about how to get the best signal and whether a converter box is needed, and will take some time to sort through.
A few dozen TV stations are holding off on switching to digital transmissions until June. Check with your local station to determine how they are handling the transition.