Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Digging Deeper Into Digital TV Delay

Today many Americans are outraged that the U.S. House of Representatives delayed the switch to digital television until June, giving the unprepared 6.5 million households more time make sure their TVs are digital ready. Those upset about the delay think that because televisions stations have been airing commercials about the switch for a year, everyone should be prepared. "You'd have to be living under a rock to have never heard of the switch." Conservatives and liberals alike think that Americans who aren't ready don't understand the concept of personal responsibility. On the surface, this argument could almost tread water until it bumps into a deeper analysis and drowns to the bottom of the ocean like the Titanic.

I knew all about the switch to digital. Like many Americans, I'm sick of the digital transition commercials. Also like many Americans, I had cable. I was covered. Then less than a week ago, I got the nightmare call from my husband: his company would close it doors on March 30
th. Insert panic and immediate budget sacrifices. Goodbye cable TV and perfect reception. Hello waiting list for government rebates on converter boxes. My household is hardly the only one having to tighten the budget belt.

The national unemployment rate is at a staggering high and continues to grow. In California, the unemployment rate is 9.3 percent, and the unemployment fund is running dry. More and more businesses close down every day, and those that stay open are laying offing workers to stay afloat. Many workers who have escaped layoffs are likely to see their hours cut, if they haven't already experienced a significantly reduced schedule. I don't have to Google the news to find examples. I see it firsthand with friends and family.

Layoffs in the media industry have been especially tough. I'm no longer surprised when another friend from college gets laid off from the news outlet they worked for. Unemployment must be filled with recent college grads with journalism or communications degrees. My best friend was recently laid off from her job with a local library. She too has a college degree. My stepfather has seen his hours cut with Safeway. He is working part-time probably for the first time in his adult life.

With the economy in such dismal state, many Americans are having to make sacrifices and cut the fat wherever possible. Doesn't it then follow that so many households are unprepared for the switch to digital TV because they were prepared until they found themselves unemployed or underemployed and cable was turned off or canceled? When it comes down to paying the mortgage or paying for cable TV, the decision is not that hard to make. Additionally, the price for cable has recently taken a pretty steep jump. For the last five years, I've always paid $25 to $30 for cable service. The same cable service I was subscribed to for $30 just two months ago has gone up to $57 before tax. Even if my husband wasn't losing his job, paying $27 more for the same service would be more than we could swing. That's an increase of over $300 a year!

I'm sure there are individuals out there who waited until the last minute to sign up for a converter box rebate when they needed one all along. That fraction can be blamed for "lacking personal responsibility." I'm not sticking up for that group. I'm sticking up for the growing number of Americans, including myself, who were prepared until the failing economy hit too close to home and sacrifices had to be made. My thanks to President Obama and the U.S. House of Representatives for understanding our situation.

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