In order to keep some 6.5 million TV screens from going dark two weeks from now, both houses of Congress have voted to postpone the deadline for a changeover from analog to to digital television transmissions, from February 17 to June 12. The president had been pushing for the postponement, and after some stalling from peevish Republicans, he got it. It remains to be seen whether the new deadline will provide enough time to resolve what has by now become a completely failed government program–another parting gift from the Bush administration, which managed to raise federal incompetence to new levels, while always seeming to shaft the nation’s most vulnerable people.
According to a January report from the Congressional Research Service, the changeover will be hardest on “low-income, elderly, disabled, non-English speaking, minority, and rural populations.” The DTV switch has become one of those events that throw into especially sharp contrast the dividing lines between the haves and the have-nots. In this case, the line separates people who can afford to shell out for cable or satellite—or a spiffy new digital TV–and people who can’t, instead depending on over-the-air broadcasts to an older, analog television set. Only the latter group will cease to receive transmissions when digital-only service goes into effect, unless they have a properly installed “converter box.” Many of these same people, of course, also lack the resources to purchase and install the needed equipment, which is far from the effortless process featured in public service ads. But there are winners as well as losers in this dramatic relaunch of America’s favorite pasttime.