Thursday, February 05, 2009

The DTV Intransigence

Imagine getting on a small shuttle flight that holds 30 passengers. All the seats are filled save one, as the final boarding call's announced. Where is the missing passenger? At the food court? Looking for their ticket? Finding a place to park? Just waking up after sleeping through the alarm? Doesn't matter to you -- you're on the plane and in your seat, just like the rest of your fellow travelers.

What happens next? Well. in the real world, the planet takes off as scheduled, with 95% of its passengers on board. In the world run by the Congress, however, the plane's takeoff would be delayed for three hours to give that last poor soul a chance to get on board.

Because make no mistake: that's exactly what happened with Congress pushed back the deadline for DTV conversion. Representative Rick Boucher (who's usually more tech-savvy) explained that this ensures millions of Americans won't get left behind, but the other way to think of that is just like my example above. 5% of the population isn't ready -- so we all have to wait.

It's been cast as a national tragedy if those poor folks (like Ethelred the Unready, pictured above) are cut off from their only source of news and emergency information, but how true is that, really? We're talking about people who only receive over-the-air broadcasts. No cable news, no on-demand programming, just what the local NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates are broadcasting. It's not likely that this 5% is only watching the news and then turning off the set.

No, when the transition is made, they'll be deprived of the shows they regularly watch: like "judge Judy," "All My Children," 'Wheel of Fortune." and "Regis and Kelly." So it's not really a life-or-death matter if viewing gets interrupted.

Now the given reason for the delay is there aren't enough coupons for converters, but so what? Despite six months of heavy advertising, people didn't get moving on the coupons until a few weeks ago.

What's going to happen next? People will forget about the switch until June, when -- once again -- there will be a run on coupons.

So what will change in three months time? More coupons? Maybe. Will people use them? Perhaps. More confusion? Definitely -- already people can't remember when exactly the date's been pushed back to. And has Congress spared that 5% from having their TVs go dark until June? Not really. Some stations have already said they're going ahead and switching as scheduled. So mission not accomplished.
Going back to our original analogy, for those people who missed the final boarding call, the plane may fly without them, or wait for an hour, or two, or three -- just depends on what gate it's leaving from. And how does help the majority of people who fly?

Of all the problems facing our elected leaders, this was one that didn't need their attention at all. How about some change that isn't unbelievably bone-headed?

- Ralph

Day 225 of the WJMA Web Watch. (Good thing digital radio wasn't part of the mandate -- we might have dead air in addition to a dead website here.)

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