Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Delay in digital TV conversion has negative ramifications

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Originally published on on Thu, 02/05/2009 – 2:23pm

With 6.5 million people on the line, Congress has voted to delay until June 12 the full implementation of digital TV. The previous deadline was February 17.

The list of ways the Bush Administration screwed up this process could fill a 52-inch HD TV set in 8-point type. And like many other messes, it comes down to the Obama Administration to clean it up. But is this delay truly necessary or is it just political convenience?

The potential political disaster of people turning on their TV sets and finding snow would certainly come at a bad time, days before the Academy Awards and weeks before March Madness (NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament). And by June 12, the NHL finals should be done and the prime time TV season is over, though the NBA finals could get caught in the timing.

But how many of those 6.5 million people are going to actually get help and assistance between now and June 12? You will still have people on June 12 who won’t be ready. It is the American way.

Psychologically, quite a few of those people are waiting for the $40 coupon to go buy a converter box. What they may not realize is that the boxes sell for $60-$70, so they will have to reach into their wallets and still pull out at least a Jackson ($20 bill) to get the box.

There are people who are struggling, but an extra $40 is not so bad in light of the idea that cable or satellite can eat up that cost in about a month. Of course, if the coupons hadn’t been offered, perhaps the boxes wouldn’t be as expensive as they are.

Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, estimates that the delay will cost public broadcasters $22 million, mostly stemming from the costs of running analog and digital signals for four extra months.

Some of the people who have made the run for a converter box have been disappointed about the reach of digital TV signals. Digital TV signals travel shorter distances than current analog signals, though TV stations may be able to boost power once the analog signals go away. But we won’t know until that happens.

No matter when the ultimate deadline will be, there will be a transition of sorts. And some will suffer in the process, no matter what you do to lead up to that point.

And the sooner the analog shutdown comes, the sooner we can force the hand of the stations to bump up its digital TV options. One perk to digital TV is that a station can multi-cast, show more than one signal at once. For example, in Chicago, the NBC owned-and-operated station broadcasts its primary signal on 5-1, a weather channel on 5-2, and Olympic highlights on 5-3.

But right now in Chicago, the CBS and FOX stations don’t even offer a second channel. And the CBS station (again owned by the network) has had loads of trouble offering even one digital TV signal. By contrast, the primary PBS station in Chicago offers four channels, one of them in Spanish.

Broadcasters can have the option of running a breaking news story on one of its signals, while leaving network or regular programming on another signal. For example, during the Rod Blagojevich impeachment trial, the ABC station showed the coverage on one of its digital signals while running soap operas on its regular channel. Anything that increases the legitimate news content from over-the-air broadcasters is a plus for democracy.

And all it “costs” is the money for a converter box.


Written by democracysoup

February 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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