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A digital delay in the airwaves

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By James Roberts

With less than two weeks to go before the switch, Congress has voted to delay the transition to digital TV until June.

Whew!

It's nice to see that our federal government is still tackling the big issues. Sure, people are losing their jobs, families are being forced out of homes they can't pay for and businesses are shutting their doors, but we all know nothing is more important than TV.

The rationale is that people haven't had time to prepare and that the federally funded coupon program has run short of cash.

First of all, we've been hearing about DTV transition for at least a couple of years now - talks began in 2005 - with an outright media blitz under way for the last year or more. This should have been plenty of time for those who need the converter box to figure it out if they were paying attention. I could have built myself a converter box in that amount of time. If the message didn't get across in two years, what difference will a few more months make?

Of course, there was some confusion about who needed a converter box. Early on, it seemed a lot of folks thought every TV needed a converter box.

About a year ago, I asked an electronics salesman about "this DTV thing," to get his take on it. He, too, believed all TVs would need a converter box.

The truth is, only those who rely on antennas to receive free over-the-air television broadcasts on TVs having only analog tuners will need a digital-to-analog converter box. These boxes receive digital signals and convert them into analog format for display on analog TVs. The antenna will not have to be replaced.

According to the FCC, televisions more than five years old may not include a built-in digital tuner. Those televisions will require a converter box to receive over-the-air signals.

Check your owner's manual or look on the TV set to see if it has an Advanced Television Systems Committee tuner, also known as an ATSC or digital tuner. If it does, you are good to go.

If you subscribe to cable or satellite TV service, you're also OK.

As for adding extra funding to the coupon program, where's it going to come from? Aren't we all broke? There are an estimated 6.5 million people who are not ready for the transition. The coupon program seeks to give households two $40 coupons to be used toward to purchase of two converter boxes.

So, do we really have half a billion dollars lying around? If so, why don't we use that for something more productive like job creation? I am a proud couch potato, but I'd take job security over a clear TV reception any day.

In another boneheaded move, the official DTV transition Web site has no mention of the delay. As of Friday, visitors to www.dtv2009.gov were informed that there are "11 days until end of analog broadcasts."

Way to go, guys.