US likely to stall on analogue to digital TV switchover

9 Jan 2009

The switch from analogue to digital has been dealt a blow with the US President-elect Barack Obama’s team asking Congress to consider delaying the planned 17 February transition to digital-only TV, citing concerns about consumer readiness.

In a letter to congressional leaders yesterday, John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama transition team, is reported to have wrote: “We have discovered major difficulties in the preparation for the 17 February conversion … In addition, the Government’s programmes to assist consumers through the upheaval of the conversion are inadequately funded.”

The Obama team now wants the move from analogue to digital to be pushed back to a date later this year.

The request comes after Bush administration officials announced on Monday that a US$1.5bn coupon programme to help the public buy the digital boxes needed to keep their older TVs working is running out of money. There is now a waiting list for consumers applying for the coupons, and those who do apply now may not receive the coupon before the switch.

It looks likely the transition team’s requests will be met, as Congress was already considering pushing back the changeover date by a few months.

In Ireland,the era of digital terrestrial television (DTT) is nearing with RTÉ starting to dismantle its analogue masts so that a lot of the country can receive its free-to-air DTT service from this autumn. European Union member states have agreed the transmission of analogue television services will cease around 2015, and analogue is due to be ‘switched off’ here in 2012.

The move towards DTT has been welcomed by many quarters, as it is generally thought to offer a better quality reception. It’s not clear what the new offering will be, but experts say it should have the capacity to offer around 24 channels, which would be similar to UPC’s current standard offering via cable.

By Linda Daly