Digital TV switch delayed

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wednesday, Congress agreed to delay the nation’s transition to digital television until June 12, four months later than originally scheduled.

The “big switch,” in which analog over-the-air broadcasts were going to be replaced by crisper digital broadcasts, was set to take place on Tues., Feb. 17. Wednesday, the House voted 264-158 to push back the date — it was passed by the Senate earlier as well — and President Barack Obama is expected to soon sign the bill into law.

Local cable providers said they had already made their preparations for the original Feb. 17 date. They also said that most networks in their channel line-up are either planning to broadcast in digital by that date, or already are broadcasting in digital.

“We don’t expect to have any interruptions,” said Ivan Bishop, president of TV Cable in Andalusia. “Many of our stations have switched over to digital already. Channel 8 in Montgomery has already gone digital and I think a few others will probably switch on the 17th.

“Most of them will want to go ahead and make the switch because it’s costing them too much money to run two transmitters — one in analog and one in digital.”

Jeff Ramer, cable TV supervisor at Opp Cablevision, said its customers’ broadcast schedule should continue uninterrupted as well.

“We were ready for (the Feb. 17 date) to start with,” he said. “It’s my understanding that most of the TV stations are going ahead with the original deadline. We’ve already got Channels 12, 8, 4 and 2 broadcasting digitally and the other stations are probably going to change soon.”

Cable and satellite TV customers should not be affected by the change, because their providers will make the analog-to-digital signal conversion for them. However, those with older television sets and who receive free broadcasts with an external antenna will need to purchase a digital conversion box, which typically costs between $40 and $80.

The federal government has a program that provides $40 coupons for these converter boxes, but that program has already hit its $1.34 billion limit. Proponents of the delay say the extra time could be used to help more people get those coupons.

The digital transition will not only result in better picture quality and sound, but it will also free up radio wavelengths that could be used by wireless broadband services and public safety communications.