The effort to get Congress to push back the television industry's Feb. 17 cutoff to transition from analog to digital broadcasting reflects a shocking lack of nerve for a nation that's supposed to be a beacon of technological leadership. Really, can't we just get with the 21st century, already? Or should we ditch our MP3 files and bring back vinyl records, too?So the deal is that President-elect Obama's transition team is pressuring Congress to push back the switchover, on the grounds that some 1 million people who've requested those $40 digital-converter discount coupons haven't been able to get them. (That's because 18.8 million coupons, which will enable people to convert their TVs to receive over-the-air digital transmissions, have already been handed out, and the funding for the program has run dry.)
Nielsen says that nearly 8 million homes (about 7% of all viewing households) remain unconverted.
What's unsaid in this panicky push to delay the DTV transition is that, for the majority of U.S. households, this isn't even an issue. That's because 64 million of the 112 million U.S. TV households subscribe to cable. They'll continue to get their Dancing With The Stars after the analog plug is pulled, because they don't get their broadcasts over the air, but rather through coax.
Delaying the transition makes no sense, especially if the argument revolves around those 8 million homes that are unconverted. Hey, they'll convert when they have to; if there's no transition, they'll have no need to convert. (Did you buy a CD player before CDs became widely available?)
If we're worried about the 1 million people on the coupon waiting list, the solution is to simply add more funding into that kitty. That'd be consistent with the prevailing bailout philosophy, since it'd spur purchases of converter boxes.
Telecom providers must be particularly ticked, since they've been waiting for the DTV transition so they can take over the "white-space" spectrum between channels and launch a whole bunch of Wi-Fi-related services. (I previously viewed this as one great big spectrum grab, but now I don't think it's that terrible.
Given that the United States has been well behind Japan in moving to digital and high-definition TV, and also noting that many consumers are off on a DTV buying spree, I can't see any compelling reasons for a further delay.
Check out my HDTV Buyer's Guide 2008.
Where do you stand on the DTV transition? Please leave a comment below, or shoot me an e-mail directly at [email protected].
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.