Hawaii heralds US digital TV transition

As analogue TVs went dark across Barack Obama's home state of Hawaii yesterday, thousands of viewers must have been cursing the dark rumped petrel. Th

As analogue TVs went dark across Barack Obama's home state of Hawaii yesterday, thousands of viewers must have been cursing the dark rumped petrel. The transition to digital TV in the 50th state was brought forward so that old TV towers on Maui could be dismantled before the endangered bird's nesting season.

Early reports suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of people somehow missed the Government's $1.4 billion (£950 million) transition campaign, months of TV and press ads, and even last-minute messages flashing up on their screens warning of the permanent switch-off.

This doesn't bode well for the nationwide transition planned for February 17. A Government-funded programme providing $40 (£27) coupons off the cost of a digital converter set top box (which sell from about $50) ran out of money two weeks ago, and currently has over 2 million people on a waiting list.

The Federal Communications Commission expects to receive at least 2 million calls on the day itself, with one FCC Commissioner reported as saying "it appears that the Commission's efforts to date are inadequate."

A lot of people agree. The House Appropriations Committee has earmarked $650 million (£440 million) in new funds for the programme, although even if that cash arrives, anyone applying for a coupon now won't receive it until at least March.

Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia yesterday proposed legislation that would postpone the transition to June 12, and even President-Elect Obama thinks the nation needs more time.

Any delay would be a major embarrassment for the FCC, the Consumer Electronics Association and the out-going administration. Forget the economy, the war in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, if President Bush takes away American's TV, he really will be remembered as the worst President ever.