Digital TV, ad nauseam

(From Ben Patterson.)

The DTV delay bill: It’s baaaaaack!
Fri Jan 30, 2009 10:28AM EST

Like a zombie that just won’t die, the DTV delay bill—which was voted down by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday—has sprung back to life, with a little help from the Senate.
Reuters reports that a second bill—”essentially” a twin of the defeated House bill, which sought to push the Feb. 17 shutoff of analog TV signals back to June 12—won unanimous support from the Senate on Thursday, and may end up shambling its way back to the House next week.

As with the original DTV delay bill, the new proposal—devised by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller and Republican counterpart Kay Bailey Hutchison—would give viewers four more months to prepare for the DTV transition, while allowing those TV stations that have already started dismantling their analog TV equipment to go all-digital before the new, June 12 deadline.

And if the bill goes before the Democrat-controlled House under standard, simple-majority adoption rules—as opposed to the fast-tracking procedure used on Wednesday, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage (the original vote was 258-168, just shy of the two-thirds needed)—there’s an excellent chance that the Feb. 17 DTV transition date will, in fact, be delayed.

In case you were wondering, well … yes, the whole “DTV delay” thing has gotten pretty nuts, and if viewers weren’t already confused about when the transition was going to occur, they are now.

Yes, it’s true that an estimated 6.5 million U.S. households still aren’t ready for the DTV transition, which would render analog TVs with over-the-air antennas useless without a $40-$60 DTV converter box (more details here).

And yes, there’s no question that the government’s $1.5 billion DTV converter-box coupon program—which allows for two $40 coupons per household—is a mess, with at least two million people on a waiting list after spending limits were reached a few weeks ago. (Money flows back into the program every week as unused coupons—which are good for 90 days—expire, and legislators have been proposing various ways to boost funding.)

But we’ve been working on this DTV transition thing for more than 10 years, people. This oft-cited Nielsen poll, looked at from another perspective, shows that more than 94 percent of America is ready for the change. And the DTV coupon program wouldn’t be in such dire straits had not so many applicants—who’ve had almost a year to apply for their coupons—waited until the last minute, or received their coupons but never bothered to use them.

Moreover, once the wireless spectrum that’s being used for analog TV is vacated, we’ll be able to use it for new technologies like 4G wireless services (think ubiquitous wireless broadband, for everyone) as well as improved channels of emergency communication for local police and fire departments (which are all chomping at the bit to deploy their new systems).

No, the DTV transition won’t be easy, but surely we can find a better way to help the last 5.7 percent of U.S. households cross the digital TV gap without pushing back the deadline for everyone.


Just make it stop!!!


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