Less than two weeks before US television broadcasters were set to switch off their analog signals, the federal government has acted to extend the previously mandated deadline. The move helps millions of consumers who still rely on old-fashioned antenna-based televisions. But it also comes after months and months of constant warnings that the signals would soon cease. Why are so many people still relying on outdated signals?
On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives voted to extend the signal switch from February 17 to June 12. The vote comes about a week after a similar Senate vote, and US president Barack Obama has said will be sign the bill, making the delay official.
The US government has spent over $1 billion over the past 12 months informing the public about the switchover and providing heavily subsidized converter boxes that allow older TVs to access digital signals. As is so often the case, of course, most of the people still relying on analog signals are poor and elderly, and often don't have the ability to retrofit their sets with these boxes.
Part of this week's vote allows for a rolling transition to all-digital signals, so many stations around the country will likely begin turning off their analog signals before June. That said, all-digital tests in certain markets, like Houston, have caused hundreds of thousands of anxious complaint calls. These experiences led to the delay this week.
Once the analog broadcasts are finally ended, that part of the spectrum will be used by various public safety agencies as well as companies like AT&T and Verizon. These companies are waiting on the switchover so they can introduce new consumer products and services.