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Delay Would Ease Nation Into DTV

Jan 25, 2009  •  Post A Comment

A Capitol Hill agreement to postpone the national digital TV transition from Feb. 17 to June 12 could alter not only the date of the country’s digital changeover but the way it plays out.
Assuming the agreement holds—Senate Republicans still could balk—the pact anticipates more of a rolling switchover than the sharp national cutoff that would have occurred at midnight Feb. 17, according to a consumer group lobbying on the issue and one of the Senate negotiators.
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Most stations likely would make the switch on the later date, but the agreement hammered out by Senate negotiators gives stations the option of asking the Federal Communications Commission to let them switch earlier.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said that despite the postponement, she expects a number of stations to transition to all-digital signals in February—or at least before June 12. Some consumer advocates confirm that assessment, though it’s still not clear how many stations will switch early. The National Association of Broadcasters did not return several calls requesting comment.
A majority of station executives oppose delaying the DTV switch, saying it could increase costs by forcing them to broadcast on both analog and digital transmitters. Media companies haven’t opposed the delay, which was sought by President Barack Obama before he took office.
Senate aides say the stations’ desire to switch before June 12 was a major factor in holding up the Senate’s first attempt to delay the transition. With an accord now reached in the Senate Commerce Committee between Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sen. Hutchison, the legislation could pass the Senate and House this week.
Mark Metzger, general manager of KLSR-TV and KEVU-TV in Eugene, Ore., said given the option, he would go forward with the switch on Feb. 17.
“Our market has only had like six calls among all the stations. Unless people just don’t understand or thought we were off the air for some other reason [during the digital tests], we’ve received hardly any calls,” Mr. Metzger said.
“We’ve discussed it among the stations [in the area] and we’ve agreed we’d go as a unit on Feb. 17,” said Karl Sargent, director of engineering with California Oregon Broadcasting. Mr.. Sargent works in the Medford-Klamath Falls, Ore., market.
Mr. Sargent said the analog transmitter in Klamath Falls stopped operating two days ago and he received only two calls about it, indicating a majority of his market is DTV-ready. He said further delay to the transition will only compound viewer confusion.
Besides moving the national DTV switch date, the legislation would seek to fix a government coupon program that subsidizes the cost of DTV converter boxes. That fix, if approved, would speed the delivery of coupons and allow people whose coupons expired to reapply.
House Republicans still argue that the DTV switch date shouldn’t change and the only fix needed is to the coupon program. The House and Senate are expected to vote separately as soon as this week to also provide more money for coupons.
A delay would create some immediate public-relations issues for broadcasters, who have been airing millions of dollars worth of public service announcements touting the Feb. 17 digital transition. Under the delay scenario, they will have less than three weeks to inform their viewers about the date change. That could cost money, as the FCC has been requiring broadcasters to air the PSAs for months and now is likely to require that they air them for another four months.
A delay would provide additional time to get the coupon program working and to better explain to consumers how converter boxes work. It also would give officials time to set up local help centers to aid consumers with any problems they have setting up their TVs.
A pause also gives Michael Copps, the new acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, several months, rather than just three weeks, to put in place programs to deal with the DTV transition.
Mr. Copps, who was designated acting chairman by President Obama on Jan. 22, had been sharply critical of the FCC’s DTV efforts under former chairman Kevin Martin.
Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said educating consumers about converter-box installation is still important.
“The least confusing part of DTV is understanding the date,” he said. “Consumers have to understand whether or not they need converter boxes and how to connect the boxes.”
He said the group was pleased with the congressional action. “We are enthused that Congress is working out the kinks.”
Both Sen. Rockefeller and Sen. Hutchison last week said the delay was needed to work out problems in the transition.
“We have a choice. We can do the DTV transition right or we can do it wrong,” said Mr. Rockefeller. “The shameful truth is that we are not poised to do this transition right. It is no secret that the outgoing administration grossly mismanaged the digital television transition.”
Sen. Hutchison cited concerns about the coupon program.
The prospect of a delay comes as Nielsen last week reported 5.7% of households are completely unready for the digital transition. That rate declined from 6.8% a month ago.
There are a number of markets and minority groups with higher rates. In some big markets, including Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston, more than 10% of either African American or Hispanic households are unready, Nielsen said.

7 Comments

  1. In my opinion, it would a huge mistake for the government to delay a transition that has been planned for years.
    Confusion and disappointment will reign if the February 17, 2009 transition date is moved back.
    Broadcasters and wireless companies have invested enormous amounts of money geared towards shutting down the analog transmitters and preparing for the wireless future of America.
    Waiting four months will do little to further prepare the clueless, but will cause an extensive economic burden for the broadcasters and other providers.
    For everyone’s sanity, keep the current transition date.

  2. Remember Y2K?
    Remember everything was going to go wrong at midnight on 1/1/2000?
    Now think about analog TV shutdown. The transition is largely in place.

  3. If the main issue is that some people don’t have their coupons for the converter box, it would be less costly to give them the boxes free and move on with the switch. Stations and the government will end up spending much more than the coupons are worth by delaying the switch. And what happened to the principle of “for the good of the majority”? Some households, quite frankly, will never be ready.

  4. I agree with Yolanda. If people still haven’t got their act together when this transition has been talked bout for over a year then three or four months aren’t going to matter. Some folks won’t do a thing till they actually lose signal. I’m tired of hearing about the switch do it as planned and move on. Delaying this is obsurd.

  5. What the media isn’t saying…
    Some stations, especially in the Northeast and Midwest aren’t ready for the switch.
    That’s right. From November to March this year it is too cold and dangerous for the qualified and approved crews to be climbing the transmission towers to make the needed changes for DTV transmission. There is at least one station in my area that is on a “waiting list” for the qualified and approved engineering crew.

  6. Way to focus and straight to your point, i love it. Keep up the work people. Dont let anyone stop us bloggers.

  7. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

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