DTV transition: To delay or not to delay

Obama's transition team and Democratic lawmakers want to push back the analog TV shutoff date by as much as 90 days, while the FCC warns that such a move would only make matters worse. My view: It's time to rip off the Band-Aid.First of all, here's the latest: Pointing to recent reports that federal funding for DTV converter box coupons has run out (well, for now, at least), Obama's camp is calling for a delay in the February 17 DTV transition date, while Senate Democrat Jay Rockefeller is reportedly prepping legislation that would push the date back 90 days.

Current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin counters that delaying the analog TV shutoff date would only add to viewer confusion, and he proposes a couple of alternatives: Either a new infusion of funding from Congress for the coupon program, or eliminating the 90-day expiration date for coupons that have yet to be redeemed.

So, what to do? After all, the Feb. 17 deadline is barely a month away.

Personally, I say we stick with the deadline. But why, if so many people are still unprepared? Based on evidence from the various DTV tests conducted in the past several months, it's not lack of awareness that's the problem-rather, it's viewers who are "either procrastinating," "in denial" (as one observer put it), or suffering from "technical naiveté" (from this spot-on L.A. Times editorial).

As far as "technical naiveté" goes, that's perfectly understandable-and that's why there are phone banks ready to answer questions, and as the L.A. Times notes, the FCC recently doled out $8 million in grant money for volunteer community outreach.

But while I've yet to run into anyone who's totally ignorant of the coming transition, I've met plenty of viewers who fall into the "in denial" category-and for them, nothing short of seeing their old TVs go dark will snap them into reality.

One more factoid: According to this New York Times story, about 6.8 percent of U.S. households aren't ready for the DTV transition-meaning that 93.2 percent are ready. (Remember, only those with older analog TVs and over-the-air antennas will be affected; if you've got a TV with a digital tuner, or you're getting your signals over cable or satellite, you're all set.)

That said, Congress needs to step up and approve more money for the converter-box coupon program, enough so that the million-plus names on their waiting list can get their coupons in a timely (key word: timely) manner-as in days, not weeks.

No, the DTV transition won't be fun-or easy. But as many others have pointed out, it'll be a painful process no matter when we do it, and the sooner we get started (and we've been working on this thing for 10 years now), the sooner we can use the newly available spectrum for next-generation wireless networks-4G, to be specific-that'll benefit all of us.

So, what do you think: To delay, or not to delay?

Posted by erniemixon on 01/13/2009
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