Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Digital transition -- the Congressional way

Well, the deadline's come and gone for the digital TV transition. Congress, as you may recall, decided to push back the deadline because millions of people weren't ready.

That's one way of looking at it -- here's another. Those millions of people translate out to 5% of the population. Doesn't seem quite so compelling when you put it that way.

And because the deadline was pushed back as an outside date, so (with FCC approval) TV stations could switch over anytime before then. In some markets, the stations had to switch in a certain order to minimize interference. But many that could make the switch. Which meant that about a third of the television stations went ahead and transitioned to digital on February 17th as originally planned.

And guess what. The world didn't end.

Rick Boucher (D-VA), chair of the Communications, Technology and Internet subcommittee and one of the masterminds of the deadline shift, said before the change:

“According to a Nielsen Company survey, the areas that are least likely to be prepared for the transition are located in mountainous, rural areas. Many people living in my district, Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, are in that category.”
And what happened in his congressional district when the local stations changed over as scheduled? According to the general manager of WVVA in an interview the Bluefield Telegraph:
“We received 83 calls on Tuesday, and the number of calls has fallen off since then. Most of our viewers seem to be prepared. Really, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the transition.”
Now Congress' fiat had one unexpected consequence -- it put the financial squeeze on a lot of public (and commercial) broadcasters. It costs a station about $10,000 to $20.000 a month to keep the analog transmitters running. And in an era where's money's tight, why do so any longer than you have to?

And as for those millions of poor souls that congress was trying to protect? Well, a third of them were staring at snow-filled screens and scratching their heads on Feb. 17th, anyway (or were they -- see the quote above). So only about 3.5% of the population was spared by Congressional action, and two-thirds of the stations have an additional monthly expense they weren't expecting.

This kind of help we can do without.

- Ralph

Day 238 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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