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August 29, 2014

Will more time make the digital TV transition any easier?

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 27th 2009 7:02PM
DTV.gov logoYesterday, the U.S. Senate followed President Obama's recommendation and approved a delay in the digital TV transition date from February 17 to to June 12. If a similar measure passes in the House, then we all know what that means: four more months of DTV transition ads! Woo hoo!

Seriously, though, will it matter if the transition date is February, June, or sometime in Obama's second administration? At this point, even the most casual observer has figured out that the transition hasn't been communicated very well to the American public. People who have cable or satellite still think that they need to buy a new HDTV or upgrade to digital cable in order to be compliant with the conversion, people who got discount coupons for converters early on have found that the coupons have expired and they can't get more, and the people who have converted are being surprised that some weak stations won't come in due to the "digital cliff effect."

No matter how well the message gets out between now and June, your Aunt Sally who still uses rabbit ears to watch her "stories" may still call you when her TV goes to snow and she doesn't know what happened.

So what should the government do about this? At this point, I'm almost tempted to say "nothing." Seriously. In any transition to a new technology, there are always going to be a significant number of people who are going to be slow to adapt, or don't adapt at all (ask our friends at AOL how many people still use their dial-up service, even if they have broadband available to them).

What usually happens is that they only make changes when forced to. Once their TV goes to snow, they'll be on the phone quickly to get their technologically-savvy niece or grandson or kindly rep in Bangalore or whoever to get their tubes up and running. There will be a run on converter boxes at the local Best Buy (I would have said Circuit City, but they won't be around by June) and lots of people who will need help setting their boxes up.

So, here's what the government should do: make sure stores have plenty of boxes available and the ability to get more quickly. Staff up a DTV transition hotline with people like my Dad who knows his electronics, likes to talk to people on the phone, and can work from home (imagine that: job creation! Isn't that what our new president wants?). And just be ready for an onslaught. If corporations and the government managed to get themselves ready for a Y2K disaster that never materialized because people prepared themselves, this should be no different.

(Update 1/29/09: Looks like the House Republicans agreed with me, as they helped vote down the delay when it was put on the floor for a quick vote. The bill may be modified and reintroduced for a regular floor vote -- which only needs a majority -- but that might not happen in time for the original Feb. 17 switchover date.)

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Alice

I work at a television station and we *are* pulling the plug on February 17. The legislation says stations must terminate their analog signal after June 12, but may do so at any time before that as long as they've filed with the FCC. We've filed, as have two of our competitors, and all three stations will go digital at 11:59pm. I'm sure you'll find some stations in your respective cities doing the same. Of course, most of you won't even notice, since you're all ready! Right?

February 05 2009 at 6:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Franklin

This ridiculous move by the Obama administration has been defeated by house Republicans. Good thing SOMEBODY has some sense in DC and uses their thoughts instead of their "feelings".

http://tinyurl.com/ar4or8

January 28 2009 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Beans

My wife works at a tv station and told me a delay till June would cost them 20 thousand to keep the analog on. They already had it planned for the Feb. cutoff

January 28 2009 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Howard

"At this point, even the most casual observer has figured out that the transition hasn't been communicated very well to the American public."

Are you kidding? If you haven't figured it out by now, then you're stupid. It's not that complicated, and there have been ads running all over the place for months.

The only people who are really going to be affected anyway are the old and the poor people who still watch TV over the air on old TVs. And if they haven't gotten a converter yet, what is a few more months going to do to pursuade them? Also, isn't the coupon program out of money anyway? So extending the deadline is just going to cause more problems related to that.

January 28 2009 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Franklin

What a silly and stupid idea from our new president. It may be a new administration, but it's still business as usual at the White House.


So much for "change".

January 28 2009 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Franklin's comment
Joel Keller

Wow... never saw *that* comment coming (heh).

January 28 2009 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Franklin

Yeah, I thought I'd try something different this time. :o)

Maybe I should add that every delay of this transition has been a stupid move. Both the Bush and Obama administrations are just as stupid in this regard. Maybe a new government agency should be formed for the sole purpose of personally handing free converter boxes to every single American who wants one but doesn't yet have one.

And "boo" to the coupons having expiration dates!

January 28 2009 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CJ

I think this is a huge mistake. People have had plenty of time and warning. This will cost TV stations millions in a time will their belt are probably strained from decreased advertising revenue.

January 28 2009 at 9:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
iphonerulez

I got my coupons in three weeks when I signed up online in late December. My cousin signed up a week later than I did and now he's on the waiting list. I'll probably give both of my coupons away since two of my TVs have ATSC tuners in them and tested fine with my rooftop antenna.

What the heck. I thought EVERYBODY would have cable or Dish TV by now. This is America where money flows freely and technology is at the cutting edge. If you can't afford cable or a dish, then go out and buy and nice new digital tuner (ATSC) wide-screen TV. They're all the rage and much cheaper now than ever. Plus they're a lot greener than those ancient picture-tube TVs. Throw them out now. Jeez, this changeover is going to take forever. You don't see guys like Madoff or Thain complaining about not getting an analog signal and they're the people that really matter. Hey, if you can't afford digital, you shouldn't be watching TV. You should be out working two or three jobs to fast forward into the digital age. Oh, yeah, there's always the library with plenty of books and magazines to read.

January 28 2009 at 9:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
philly_phenom

this is probably harsh, but given the abundance of ads detailing the transition broadcast ON TELEVISION - which mention the fact that cable customers are OK, people who aren't aware of the transition either don't watch much TV in the first place (in which case the transition won't provide undue hardship) or they have extra thick sculls.

The notion that the transition hasn't been communicated clearly is flatly false.

January 28 2009 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Appookta

Being retired, living in "the country" between two far distant broadcasting areas and trying to catch when the meager supply of converter boxes is in the "local" Wal-Mart 17 miles away isn't as easy as it sounds. That's how my first coupon expired last year. I managed to use my later-requested coupon on my second trip to Wal-Mart for that purpose (called the first time and a dozen were on the shelves; by the time I got there, they were all gone -- now that there are no coupons going out, there are scores on the shelves with no buyers). A friend ordered two coupons almost two months ago, long before the announcement that they're no longer available, but they haven't arrived. Were they stolen by some postal employee? There's no guarantee for their arrival by the government. And then there's the constant stress while waiting for them to come in the mail, but they don't show up.

Personally, I think that the analog signals should continue until there is no analog equipment that needs it. That way, poor people would gradually switch over as digital equipment was the only thing they could buy and when they would naturally be spending that money. Attrition has always been the gentlist, most logical way to accomplish any change.

What the government should have done is to stop the manufacture/selling of analog equipment for consumer usage, therby allowing the gradual switch to occur when the consumer was prepared for it, and setting the conversion date to ten years later.

As for clearing the frequencies for emergency and other official uses, we've been using analog signal frequencies for over 60 years. Waiting another ten years wouldn't matter.

January 28 2009 at 7:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TheH2s

STUPID, STUPID,STUPID!!

I think this is the most ridiculous thing I have seen in a very long time. Rip the band aid off and get it over with. They've done plenty to inform people they need to switch over.

Heaven forbid someone doesn't have television. If you are too stupid to pay attention you don't deserve tv.

January 28 2009 at 6:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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