FORTUNE: Congress botched digital TV - Jan. 4, 2006:
But managing this transition -- which will render about 70 million TV sets obsolete -- will be not be easy. Nothing is, when the federal government gets involved. Indeed, Congress will soon have to revisit this issue, to clean up this mess it has created.
This fixed switch date allows consumers, electronics manufacturers, broadcasters, cable and satellite operators to plan for the transition. All have a lot at stake.
But for consumers with one of those 70 million sets -- many of whom are likely to be poor, elderly or uneducated, being forcibly switched from one technology to another will be a nightmare.
People are supposed to apply for the vouchers during a three-month window in 2008, and use them within three months. But there probably won't be enough vouchers to go around, and no one really knows how much converter boxes will cost. Disadvantaged people are most likely to be left behind in the scramble.
The nightmare scenario is that people who depend on free, over-the-air TV for news and entertainment will lose their access, or have to pay more for it, so that the rest of us can get faster service on our Blackberries and ESPN on our cell phones.