New legislation could postpone February DTV transition

Legislation now proposed in the US Congress would effectively postpone the February 17, 2009 date for the switchover to all-digital TV. Today, the NAB came out in support of that measure, with Nielsen data to back it up.

More than 21.5 million US households -- or one in five -- are still either completely or partially unprepared for the upcoming transition to all-digital TV on February 17 of next year, the Nielsen Company said on Wednesday. That same day, the National Association of Broadcasters endorsed proposed legislation in the US Congress that would enable an extension of the quickly encroaching deadline, now only four months away.

The NAB's TV Board on Wednesday issued a proclamation giving unanimous approval to proposed legislation first introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D - Calif.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D - N.Y.). The measure would allow broadcasters to voluntarily push back the deadline "only to provide additional time for consumers to be educated about the DTV Transition and receive emergency information."

Also on Wednesday, the Nielsen Company released survey findings showing that if the changeover happened today, a total of 9 million US homes would be totally unable to get TV signals, making them completely unready. Another 12.6 homes have at least one TV that would stop working, meaning that they're "partially unready," in Nielsen's words.

Nielsen also found that nearly 25% of the unready TVs are being used with DVD players, VCRs, or video game systems.

Still, lots of progress seems to have emerged over the past 10 months. In a survey last January, Consumer Reports discovered that 74% of respondents who thought they were ready for the change actually had "serious misconceptions of its impact." Moreover, 28% of those with one or more TVs that will be impacted weren't even aware of the digital TV transition at all.

Meanwhile, the FCC has launched awareness campaigns, including a multilingual informational Web site also used for distributing free digital TV converter boxes.

HDTVs and other digital TVs, of course, are inherently ready for the transition. Analog TVs, though, need to be connected to either a converter box or cable, satellite, or some other alternate delivery system.

The Nielsen findings released today also showed that, by and large, older and better educated people are more prepared for the change than younger and lower-income individuals.

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