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DTV Transition Follies

So the procrastinators in Congress got their way. Congress voted on Wednesday to delay the digital TV transition from Feb. 17 to June 12, for reasons that continue to escape this reporter.

You’d think Congress would be more concerned about the imploding U.S. and world economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iranian and North Korean nukes, global warming or universal health care, but no.

Life, liberty and the right to get free terrestrial TV broadcasts (with a $40 coupon from a now very broke Uncle Sam for a converter box) should be priority No. 1.

Congressional backers of the legislation pointed to Nielsen estimates in January that showed 6.5 million households were still not prepared for the transition.

You’ve heard all the reasons (or excuses, take your pick) for the delay. Now this sorry bit of legislation goes to the White House where it is sure to be approved.

But who does the legislation really help?

In this measure broadcasters are allowed to end their analog transmissions on or before the previous Feb. 17 deadline.


That means all those nice folks in many of those 6.5 million households might not see “American Idol,” their local news broadcasts or other favorite TV fare after February 17 even though the “deadline” was extended.

You can’t make it up.

So who comes out a winner with this legislation? Broadcasters, who spent tons of money on ads telling people about the February date and had plans to shut off their analog broadcasts, can’t be pleased.

Irate and confused consumers will be calling local stations first to find out where their favorite shows have gone. Then they may call Congress, which may be the two-step protection reason that this piece of legislation was passed.

Companies that make converter boxes now have a longer window to sell their wares, but word is many stopped production, thinking Feb. 17 was the deadline.

My guess is that retailers may make a few extra bucks on this deal. As one veteran CE retailer reminded me years ago, “We sell solutions to solve the confusion that is out there.” Well, when you mix technology with wrong-headed Congressional legislation, there will be plenty of opportunities to “sell solutions” in the next few months.

So if CE retailers can make some extra cash by selling a few more converter boxes and converting those consumers to HDTVs in a terrible economy, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

One prediction: Congressional backers of this bill will be wringing their hands in late May when Nielsen, or whomever, estimates that 3.2 million households (or 1.7 million households or 4.1 million households, take your pick) won’t be prepared for the DTV transition on June 12.

Will they delay the transition again, or have the National Guard go door to door to install antennas and DTV converter boxes?