Federal digital converter box program a failure

Analog television broadcasting was expected to end next month, but a Senate vote Monday extended it until June 12. The decision was based primarily on concerns that the public is not ready for a full transition from analog to digital.

A federal subsidy program was enacted allowing consumers to receive up to two $40 coupons for a digital converter box.

But according to a government report, the program has run out of money and there is now a 1.4 million-household waiting list for converter boxes.

Unfortunately, the delay may have worse consequences.

Some stations are facing problems because they anticipated making the digital switch next month and are locked into contracts to move towers, according to U.S. News and World Report — so people without digital TV or a converter box will not get certain channels. According to the Associated Press, PBS estimated that the delay could cost public broadcasting $22 million.

Notification of the change has gone on for two years, with people like Oprah Winfrey reminding viewers to make the switch. According to Nielsen, only 5.7 percent of American households aren’t ready.

Since the switch was announced, there has been much confusion on the part of consumers trying to figure out what they will need to keep watching broadcast TV. Cable and satellite subscribers do not need to change anything. Only viewers who receive their signal free from a traditional antenna will need to buy the converter boxes, which generally cost between $50 and $70.

However, there have been reports from retail stores of customers purchasing converter units who probably don’t need them.

In a time when millions have no health insurance and unemployment is on the rise, prioritizing an investment in television is less than philanthropic.

Television is a personal luxury, not an inherent right. The strongest and perhaps the only sound argument for putting taxpayer funds toward the program is notifying people in case of emergencies. Even so, funds could be more prudently spent on purchasing stand-alone weather radio units.

Public funds should not be used to alleviate whatever pains may be caused by the absence of an analog TV signal.