Delay of TV switch unlikely: Congress may put more money toward extra converter boxes

An extension of the deadline for certain TV companies to change their analog signals to digital won't likely happen despite requests for a delay, Sen. John Thune said Thursday.

An extension of the deadline for certain TV companies to change their analog signals to digital won't likely happen despite requests for a delay, Sen. John Thune said Thursday.

Congress had been in talks with the Federal Communications Commission about possibly delaying its switchover of the nation's "full-power" TV signals and last month, Thune said there was a chance a postponement could happen. At the time, he worried the change would take many people by surprise and that many South Dakotans would be impacted.

Thursday, Thune said he still feels some will be surprised by the nationwide changeover, but conceded that the majority of the state's residents are prepared.

"I don't think it's likely at this point for any kind of a delay," Thune said. "We think based on feedback that we're getting from the FCC that it's unlikely it's going to be delayed and it's possible as well that Congress may appropriate more money for (converter) boxes for people who need assistance with the transition."

The change will come Feb. 17 and only will affect people with analog televisions who rely upon antennas to receive broadcasts from CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS. Those companies are considered "full power" and are being forced to switch their signal to a digital format.


For people who wish to keep their analog TV and who still rely upon an antenna, a converter box will be needed to pick up the new signal.

Generally, televisions that were purchased within the past two years are capable of handling the digital signal, state Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson has said. TV sets that are more than 5 years old could be a problem and therefore need a converter box.

The federal government is providing two coupons per household for free converter boxes. The switch has been publicly advertised for months.

However, there are worries that there aren't enough converter boxes to go around, rumors bolstered by a recent announcement by the Commerce Department that as of Jan. 4, consumers requesting coupons will be placed on a waiting list. For those on the list, coupons for free converter boxes will be mailed on a first-come, first served-basis.

Because of high demand for the coupons, the program reached its $1.34 billion spending limit, according to a press release from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department.

Thune said "the best we can hope for right now is some additional funding to get some additional boxes out to people."

"What we're hearing from sources in South Dakota is that most people in South Dakota have boxes," he said. "I think they're in as good a shape as could be expected, although we have argued for a long time that there are some folks that will fall through the cracks."

The switch from an analog to a digital signal is the result of the 2005 Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act, which requires full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasts and switch to a digital signal, according to the NTIA. Along with providing consumers a clearer picture and more programming choices, the switch will free up analog airwaves for better communications among emergency first responders and new telecommunications services, according to an NTIA press release.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

Over time, he has been a board member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103.
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