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Another Twist In DTV Transition’s History

I should have known better. Given all the give and take, the stops and starts, lobbying and anti-lobbying efforts, I should have never done a blog about the DTV transition, which was supposed to occur on Feb. 17.

I posted a blog on Thursday with some personal reflections on the transition because I thought, incorrectly, that Feb. 17 was set in stone.

Thinking about this a couple of days ago I said, “Sure, special interest groups are complaining, the Bush administration said it could not guarantee everyone coupons for converter boxes before the deadline, but what could go wrong?”

Since the 1980s, when the push for digital TV began, there have always been last-minute delays, changes in the standard, or second thoughts about the format and its implementation.

So, hindsight being 20/20, of course I should have expected that President-elect Obama would be the latest to say, “Now wait a minute …” about moving to DTV. Everyone else has.

All of the stakeholders in the DTV transition over the years — CE manufacturers, retailers, computer makers, broadcasters, cable and satellite providers, public interest groups, assorted politicians and Washington regulators — have all provided more last-minute twists and turns than an old-fashioned Saturday morning movie serials.

Of course, the DTV transition would have been a main topic of conversation even if Obama hadn’t weighed in with an opinion. All the DTV stakeholders are here.

Speaking of one of the stakeholder groups, broadcasters, wasn’t it shocking that the four major broadcast networks —ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — all backed President-elect Obama’s position? And isn’t it great we get to hear from former FCC chairmen William Kennard and Michael Powell, once again? On Friday they joined the growing chorus calling for the federal government to move the Feb. 17 DTV transition date.

Some think that more time will give more consumers time to understand the transition and prepare. I happen to think that the DTV education program has worked, at least based on surveys I’ve seen and discussions with regular consumers who I know — friends and family.

No matter the date, there will always be pain and a disruption in TV service for some, due to procrastination or other concerns. In fact, current FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who will speak at CES today, said a DTV deadline delay may cause more confusion.

Initial speculation on Thursday indicated that a four-month delay might be requested. More speculation and opinions suggest the delay may help the CE retail industry get four more months of demand out of the DTV transition.

Whatever the outcome, I still hope that Feb. 17 will remain the deadline. More importantly, whatever happens with the deadline, I hope that when we look back at this show a year or two from now I hope we will see that the DTV transition was a success, and that the latest uproar was the last of the twists and turns in the history of this technology.