The Federal Communications Commission has been planning a move to higher-quality digital television for a very long time, so it's hard to understand why 6 million Americans will be without some of their favorite television shows this week when some television stations here and across the nation switch off their analog signals.
At fault are shortsighted federal bureaucrats who tried to accomplish the conversion on the cheap and made miscalculations that even the bumbling manager of The Office would have avoided. Among the likely victims are Baltimore-area fans of such TV shows as the CW's Privileged and Fox's American Idol as WNUV-Channel 54 and WBFF-Channel 45 go digital Wednesday.
The government didn't budget enough money to pay for an adequate supply of government coupons intended to help pay for the equipment boxes needed to convert the new digital signals for use with analog televisions. Compounding that problem, the agency sent the coupons by third-class mail, delaying their delivery for weeks. Meanwhile, stores might not have enough converter boxes on hand to meet demand, with or without the discount coupon.
By early this month, more than 4 million Americans were on a coupon waiting list and Congress passed emergency legislation delaying the switch to digital until June 12. Last Monday, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law. But now 500 stations are planning to go ahead with the original plan to shut off analog signals Tuesday, claiming economic hardship. Another 190 stations had received permission to go all-digital. Combined, that's almost 40 percent of local stations nationally.
FCC officials say it's possible that some stations could be barred from converting this week, but given the bureaucratic fumbling thus far, it's likely that many viewers will find themselves deprived of their favorite entertainment for weeks or months to come. This is no way to regulate our television industry.