Old analog television owners may have more time to either buy a digital television or purchase the proper digital converter in order to make the mandatory nationwide shift from analog to digital broadcast.

The U.S. Senate was introduced to a bill Thursday to delay the original Feb. 17, 2008, deadline by 30 days for television to shut down analog broadcast and switch exclusively to digital.

Barry Orton, University of Wisconsin professor of telecommunications, said the reason for the bill has to do with the concern that people are lagging behind and are unaware of the transition.

“They’re scared people are going to get caught in the lurch,” Orton said. “Some people are still unaware.”

Cable service providers will not face significant challenges, Orton said, but the real problem comes from people who are five to 10 years behind as far as technology goes.

The bill proposed a 30-day extension for cable service providers to make the final switch from analog to digital, and was sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.

The Federal Communications Commission has been issuing broadcasting licenses to service providers and other entities to maintain the distribution of the valuable resource that is the broadcast spectrum, Orton said.

Converting entirely to digital broadcast will provide more spectrum space for use of important services such as public and safety services, including police and emergency rescue, as well as advanced wireless services.

“TV airwaves are being hogged by analog,” Orton said. “Digital is significantly less.”

Orton said the original analog to digital deadline was set in 2006, but has been delayed multiple times and now the Bush administration is adamant to make the February deadline.

The FCC has provided a website, www.dtv.gov, to provide information to those who need to shift from their analog television sets, which use rabbit ear and rooftop antennas to receive a signal.

According to the FCC’s digital TV transition website, analog television set owners can purchase the necessary converter box through the website, as well as obtain two $40 coupons to be applied toward up to two digital receivers. Home electronics, such as DVD players and video game consoles, will still function after the analog signal is cut.

According to multichannel.com, Wilmington, N.C., was the first market to broadcast digital exclusively on Sept. 8, but continued to broadcast analog until Sept. 30. This provided a transitional period for those who had not yet gone digital to convert.

The Capps-Rockefeller legislation does not require cable service providers to have an analog grace period after the digital deadline.

“Trying to make sure there’s a temporary timeframe when broadcasters can continue to provide information about what’s going on with the DTV transition would be helpful,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told multichannel.com. “I think that was very helpful in the Wilmington transition, and I think that would be helpful going forward.”

The Capps-Rockefeller legislation cannot reach the White House until it is passed through the House of Representatives.