The deed is done, the die is cast. Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved the delay of the cutoff date for analog television broadcasts. The date was moved out another four months to June 12, 2009. The bill is now headed to the White House, where President Obama’s repeated calls for a delay make it likely that it will quickly be signed into law.
The delay is ostensibly to give more time to the some 6.5 million people who reportedly are not prepared for the end of analog broadcasts. Congress wanted to give more time (and money) to the converter box rebate program, to help people make their analog sets ready to receive the digital signals (that are already available). This motive apparently trumped the millions of dollars that this delay will cost taxpayers, broadcasters, and the companies that paid $19 billion for the right to use the radio spectrum frequencies that will be made available by this change.
And there is little evidence that indicates that we still won’t have at least 5 million people not ready by June. So all that money will be wasted for small gains.
One provision of the bill apparently allows broadcasters to cease their analog broadcasts any time they want between February 17th and June 12th. If any take advantage of this in order to maintain the terms of their service contracts with other companies and to avoid the expense of running two transmitters (analog and digital) for four months, this will simply add to the confusion as some stations disappear from the analog channels. But changing early won’t be an option for many stations, as many markets have a game of “musical chairs” set up for the transition. Before one station can take on its assigned frequency, another station that is currently using it will have to vacate it. But this second station may not be able to make the change unless another station switches to its new frequency as well.
I believe that the President and Congress got this wrong. Come June 13th, we’ll have just as big a mess to deal with as we would have on February 18th, but collectively we’ll have lost a lot of money as a result of the delay. But let’s make the most of it. Do what you can locally — as individuals or as part of a group — to see that those most likely to be unprepared for the transition are ready.