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Should the Feds Delay the DTV Transition?

TV tech is hitting some speed bumps on its way into the Digital Age. One of the country’s most influential consumer groups is asking the government to push back the Feb. 17 deadline when so-called analog TV signals are due to go dark, making way for digital signals. The analog-to-digital transition has been a long time in the making, and Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, says people need a little more time.

The reason? The government program that subsidizes TV converter boxes that enable rabbit-eared televisions to receive digital programs has run out of money. On Monday, USA Today reported that more than 103,000 people are on the waiting list for coupons worth $40 a piece. The coupons can be used toward purchase of TV converter boxes, which typically cost between $40 and $80, and allow a rabbit-eared TV to receive digital signals.

The $1.34 billion government program ran out of money on Sunday. And the government agency responsible for administering it is being accused of mismanagement: According to experts quoted in the USA Today story, it should have asked Congress for more funds sooner.

Should the transition be delayed? Personally I don’t see why it should, though my opinion may not be popular. The government has always said its coupons will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Coupons have been available for more than a year, and consumers should have applied for them months ago. Back in September, the government urged consumers to apply for coupons as soon as possible, before they run out. Sure, people who have waited to the last minute are out of luck, but they should have applied for their coupons sooner.

So, what’s to do at this point? It is possible that Congress may allocate more funds to issue more DTV coupons. Or that some people who’ve already received coupons don’t use them and they will get reissued. So getting onto the government’s wait list may still be your best bet.

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