There are two transitions happening at the moment in the US.
One is well known – the Obama transition from being president-elect to taking over power and being sworn in as President on Tuesday.
The other is the US-wide shut-down of the analogue terrestrial TV network (ie, using aerials to pick up analogue TV signals) and switchover to digital terrestrial.
The UK is doing its own Digital Switchover (DSO), phasing this change in between 2008 and 2012. Northern Ireland will be (one of) the last region to move, and the timing – whether before or after the London Olympics are broadcast on Freeview in HD using clawed back spectrum – remains uncertain.
However, in the US, they’re taking the big bang approach. And that’s where the two transitions collide. The Obama team have recently written to Congress to ask them to delay the shut down of the analogue signal.
The Department of Commerce is running a coupon programme to offer households $40 discount vouchers to use when purchasing digital set top boxes. But all the coupons have now been handed out, leaving a growing waiting list of people unable to get a voucher until the currently distributed ones expire and can be reallocated.
There are also questions on whether the FCC call centre (scaled for 350,000 calls/day) will be able to handle the predicted 1.5 million calls from confused consumers in the first two days following switchover.
Nielson research from December showed that 7.8 million (6.8% of US households with TVs) were completely unprepared. Hispanic households were worst prepared, with 11.5% facing no TV reception post switchover, compared to 6.2%)of non-Hispanic households.
The proposals to postpone the US digital transition until June 12 have support from broadcasters like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC as well as consumer and community groups and some politicians (including Obama). However, the FCC are not keen, citing consumer confusion and engineering work already scheduled by broadcasters to boost the power to existing digital transmitters and remove their analogue antennae. Congress will soon vote on the issue.