Your I.O.U. for a Coupon for a Future TV Converter Box is in the Mail

Frequent listeners of Le Show on KCRW (or podcast ... or satellite ... or short-wave radio) know that host Harry Shearer has long had a bug up his ass about broadcast television's midnight Feb. 19 switch from analog to digital signals. Shearer's tales of looming digital woe are generally summed up in a segment he calls "Digital Wonderland." Using anecdotal evidence, Mr. Burns makes the bigger picture point that the Federal Communications Commission-shepherded switch from the sometimes snowy analog signal to the promised crystal clear digital one is unneccessary, unworkable and, for too many cash-strapped Americans, unaffordable since the government is essentially forcing viewers of the free airwaves to opt for expensive cable, satellite or televisions with built in digital receivers to receive their daily fix Judge Judy fixes.

"Whoa," replies Captain Television. "The federal government is giving coupons to low-income folks so they can be redeemed for new digital converter boxes."

Yes, the gubment was doing that ... until the program ran out of money.

As the Wall Street Journal reports today:

Rattled by the recession, many consumers facing the upcoming switch to digital television are taking the cheap way out -- buying inexpensive converter boxes instead of new digital TV sets. But now, amid higher demand, the government is running out of money to subsidize the purchase of the converters.

As of Monday, consumers who request the $40 government coupons are being put on a waiting list, Commerce Department officials said. The coupons help pay for set-top digital converter boxes that allow older TVs to receive digital signals. The department is also warning consumers that some stores may not have enough converter boxes to meet demand. Consumers requested about 7.2 million coupons in December, far higher than the 4.3 million the administration had forecast.

Even if they could get their mitts on federally subsidized converter boxes, the 20 million people (of the 125 million U.S. households with TVs) who rely on free, over-the-air television signals could have problems with their pictures.

During his Nov. 16 broadcast, Shearer read from a technical website that reported the FCC had revealed a glitch that could effect even those with converter boxes. But in authorizing a fix on the broadcasting end, the FCC admitted no TV stations were ordered to comply, the repair could make things worse and each channel's free broadcasting area will likely shrink once it's gone digital.

Bold prediction: radio will be huge in 2009.


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