The DTV Transition Will Now Happen..Whenever

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on February 4, 2009

Will the U.S. ever complete the transition to digital television?

Congress set the process in motion in 1996. In 2002, lawmakers voted that the change should be complete by the end of 2006. Then they delayed the date until Feb. 17, 2009. Now. less than two weeks before the scheduled, and exhaustively publicized, cut-over, Congress has voted to put off the transition until Jun. 17.

Representative Rick Boucher (D-Va.), manager of the bill, promised this was a one-time only delay, a pledge echoed by many other supporters. I wish I could believe them.

Of all the reasons for delaying the end of analog television, the only one that could be fix before June is the fact that a government program to subsidize the purchase of analog-to-digital converter boxes has run out of money. But the legislation does nothing to remedy that problem, though additional funding is included in the House-passed economic stimulus bill. And odds are that many of the estimated 6.5 million American households that rely on over-the-air TV broadcasts and who are not ready for digital TV still won't be ready come June. Will the lawmakers who lacked the nerve to pull the plug in February find their courage by June?

The Congressional Democrats who supported the delay seem to have forgotten why Congress endorsed the idea in the first place. Analog TV makes monumentally inefficient use of broadcast spectrum to provide poor quality pictures. Broadcasters can offer up to three high-definition channels in the digital spectrum they have been given (yes, given) to replace the analog spectrum they are to surrender. And their are important uses waiting for that spectrum to be freed. A big chunk of it is to go to public safety agencies to build a national interoperable communications network. Wireless carriers, led by Verizon and AT&T, bid $20 billion for another big chunk, mainly to provide fourth-generation wireless services. Qualcomm bought analog channel 55 nationwide to support MediaFLO broadcasts to mobile devices. All of these services are now on hold.

Democratic supporters were responsible for most of the foolishness in the debate, but Republicans contributed some silliness of their own. A number of speakers claimed the Obama Administration pushed for the delay at the behest of transition adviser R. Gerard Salemme, executive vice-president of wireless carrier Clearwire. Because AT&T and Verizon plan to use the spectrum to compete with Clearwire's Clear WiMAX service, they argued, it stands to benefit from a delay in the release of the spectrum. They can make a theoretical argument, but no one produced any evidence that either Salemme or Clearwire were involved in the decision. And in any event, Clearwire's real problem is raising the vast amounts of money it needs to build out its WiMAX network, not the potential competition, which both AT&T and Verizon say is unlikely to materially effect their rollout plans.

Reader Comments

Rich

February 5, 2009 10:42 AM

I've followed this carefully and I'm not aware of a good reason for delaying the DTV transition.

wilson

February 16, 2009 9:39 PM

One reason for the hold up, is there are people like me that still need a converter box. I bought my first TV with an ATSC tuner last year and a half ago, when a 1080p TV at walmart (the only one there was) cost 1398.00. The only brand that did 1080p was Polaroid. I used a small antenna and could pick up a few HD channels before switching to directv. However, I still have another TV that is in my bedroom that is old. It will need a converter box. I filled out the form on the website with the government to get myself two coupons. I still want my old TV's to be able to work. When I chose on the website that I was not FULLY on antenna TV's that i was on Cable/Sat, I know they put others first, but i still want my coupons.. if the Sat ever goes out.. or if something major ever happens and i need to rely on the old TV's I want to be able to use them! In a way though I cannot WAIT for the switch, because I know google, and all the companies with lots of money will buy the bandwidth.. and they will offer FAST high SPEED internet.. to all kinds of RURAL areas that before could pick up TV channels, but couldn't get high speed DSL or Cable. So in a sense.. people like my dad who lives out in the boonies, who is loosing his TV signals (because his converter box only picks up 1 channel with the low signal out that far -i know digital doesnt carry as far) if he can get internet service through wireless out there, he could go to websites that will offer TV programs.. which would make a even easier way of showing media.. I wonder if it will happen that special TV's will come out that can access high speed internet services.. and some service with servers everywhere will offer whole seasons and inventories of EVERY video EVERY show EVERY day for anyone to browse or watch.. Its getting to a point that things will be all on demand and live.. wireless tv services over the internet over the old analog singals will compete with Cable and Satellite, and companies will grow and merge.. Phone Internet TV all video and voice are all going wireless.. why should AT&T pay to get fiber to each and every house when they can just drop in wireless signals that can travel 54MBps, or faster.. a standard def video stream only uses about 4-5 Mbps of bandwith 3.5 for picture and the rest for voice.. a HDTV stream can be from 17-19 MBps of bandwidth of streaming Mpeg2 video, so you have this speed per one digital channel (which most places got 3 channels as stated) that can carry almost 50-60 Mbps.. thats a lot more bandwidth than people get today from DSL or cable.. i get 6mbit DSL.. and I would love an internet connection that was like FIOS where i got even 30MBPS.. I don't think it will ever slow down.. I just know people in the business like AT&T while they probably prefer optical connections, and lines for old phone lines and such.. that everyyyything these days is starting to go over IP.. and more and more is going through wireless...

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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