Editorial: Soft Hard Date for DTV Transition
Blindly holding to the Feb. 17 date for date's sake is not the right course.
By Broadcasting & Cable Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/11/2009 7:00:00 PM
There are enough obvious problems on the road to DTV that last week's request by President-elect Obama's transition team that the Feb. 17 analog shutoff deadline be pushed back—probably by about four months—doesn't sound like quite the heresy it might have been six months ago.
Ideally, Congress will quickly pass legislation to get the DTV-to-analog coupons flowing freely again, broadcasters can quickly fill in coverage gaps with recently approved FCC engineering fixes, and government and industry can coordinate national call-center operations and more—all in the next five weeks.
But if not, blindly holding to a date for date's sake is not the right course.
We would have probably sided with Republicans defending a stay-the-course policy if the economy had not tanked and the new administration didn't need to focus its energies on keeping us out of the poorhouse, or if the NTIA had better estimated or planned for the spike in coupon requests from procrastinators like, well, many of us. Or if Congress had taken decisive action rather than hand-wringing. Or if the Wilmington, N.C, test had not revealed more widespread coverage-area discrepancies than had been anticipated and showed how many calls would come from viewers who needed help.
But the current reality includes all those and more. The FCC just last week announced more than $8 million in DTV education grants to various outside contractors, with only a few weeks until the transition. Yes, the FCC didn't get the money from Congress until late in the process, but neither the FCC nor the NTIA was beating down Congress' doors for funding.
Critics also have pointed out that Congress could have anytime in the past couple of years provided more funds, changed the converter-box application rules or otherwise legislated changes to the DTV transition regime.
At times, it seemed to come down to basic philosophical differences. Republicans, who were in control when the hard date was set, were concerned about it becoming a welfare program. They attempted to guard against a black market in coupons by picking a definition of eligible households that initially excluded sending the coupons to post-office boxes—where rural viewers often get their mail—and nursing homes, home for many of the elderly. These turned out to be two of the target at-risk populations most in need of help.
Democrats kept pushing for more flexibility in the program and better coordination among agencies, to ensure it did not hit hardest at the at-risk populations.
Let's be clear: Broadcasters have done their jobs. They have filled the airwaves with public service announcements about the switch, and done mock analog turnoff tests to educate viewers. But every month that goes by with broadcasters having to pay the energy costs to simultaneously keep analog and digital signals running potentially will cost stations millions. The new Obama government ought to consider that when it begins dispensing funds to industries to help revive the economy.
The Obama administration is correct to ask for the delay, then fix the coupon and education problems, pick a new firm date and finally, stick to it. The nation has enough problems; it doesn't have to create a new one.
(Part 2 of 2)
AND, their [older] radios with analog TV audio, will
ALSO fail for any channel that will not have an analog
translator out here. (MANY radios --- including the
'American Red Cross' emergency radios --- are STILL
being sold w/o a warning that the analog TV audio will
not be usable.)
FEW manufacturers make 'over the air' digital VCRs
WITH both analog and digital tuners; the few only
record on a DVD for the digital side. Those I've
set that do not have auxillary inputs to their TVs
--- if they have multiple locations such as their
living room and bedroom --- cannot move a DVD from
their living room to bedroom to watch what they
recorded. MANY 'CANNOT AFFORD' to buy new items so
to be able to handle this. And MANY are not quite
capable to operate so many different items.
There may have been $1.25B put out to educate the
public that we are changing to digital, but the
implementation of the plan to explain the massive
extent of the change, especially to those who live
in RURAL areas where translators are norm; in areas
of mountains; of the OTHER equipment that will ALSO
be affected, was horribly done, on websites --- which
MANY people I worked with ALSO did not have internet
access --- nor when calling in to find out what was
going on since they did not know what questions to
We may need an extra few years and money to bring
people more up to date. When we went to color, it
did not affect B/W TVs. VCRs were a simple upgrade.
Going from analog to digital is a massive change-out
that just telling people that your TV will go dark
as of Feb 17, 2009 w/o a converter box or new TV, was
Gregg E Zuelke - 1/14/2009 12:51:00 AM EST
(Part 1 of 2)
I have been helping set up the 'converter boxes' for
elderly people for about a year now.
I live in a mountainous area about 40 miles east of
where the primary television transmitter group is
located at, near Reno, NV. Our 1.8MW ERP station
often does not have a decent signal with homes behind
the mountain and hill ranges. In many cases, neither
the analog and digital signals come through in areas
behind mountains for the seven primary stations in the
We operate four 'translators' in the area for
stations whose signals were known not to make it
this far. The two stations that do not have
translators in this area will be lost for those
hidden from the signals even with outside antennas.
For those I have set systems for, quite a few had
purchase the 'digital only' converter boxes since
they were not aware the 'rural' areas would remain
analog through translators for awhile. I had to
install A/B switches so they could go between the
standard TV and the box since their TVs were old
enough not to have an auxillary signal input.
(Quite a few are handicapped so they have to roll
to the TV every time they need to switch signals.)
Others who purchased the boxes with the pass through
but no auxillary inputs to the TV, have to turn the
'box' on and off to get either analog or digital since
the boxes do not have the 'TV/VCR' [type] capability
that VCRs do. (Warm up and turn off times have been
as much as a minute.)
The few that do have auxillary inputs can basically
run their TVs regularly, but I did have to rig
antenna splitters for them so the box and TV could
each get a signal.
MANY places I put a 'rotor' on the antenna due to
where the analog translators to the digital
transmitters were located at, as well as the distances
and the mountain blocking, so to change channels they
also have to rotate the antenna, both on digital and
(Some I had to put an external antenna up because
they live in older metal mobile homes.)
TWO things that have also upset MANY people that do
not have more modern equipment, include:
MANY were not aware that their [older] VCRs would 'NOT'
record any digital channel. They have only heard
their 'TV' would not work. I explain they can put
another 'converter box' in line with the VCR, but,
unless they change the converter box channel at the
time they want to record another channel since the
box does not operate like a VCR where you can set
channel AND time to record, if they go out they only
get the first channel they tuned to on the box.
(And, of course, for those who had to have rotor
antennas, if the antenna is aimed at one area and
what they want to record has to have a different aim,
they will not get that channel anyway.)
Gregg E Zuelke - 1/14/2009 12:50:00 AM EST
Here is an interesting item:
I can get both the 'analog' signal directly from one
TV station where I live. I can get the 'translator'
channel from the same station, which the translator
has a digital to analog converter installed since
translators will be around for awhile and our units
do 'donate' their signal to other units down the path. During one of the tests, I changed from the
primary channel to the translator channel and on my
8 year old TV, I passed one test and failed the other
test, without having a converter box installed. Cool,
isn't it? What do you think OTHER people who normally
tune in to the translator ONLY channel, will think
when it says their [older] TV will 'PASS' for the
digital conversion even if they do not have the
converter box installed?
Gregg E Zuelke - 1/14/2009 12:49:00 AM EST
I cannot believe the writer actually favors another delay. Without criticizing his opinion I offer my own. Fix the coupon problem first. It should be easy
Jerry Paonessa - 1/13/2009 4:42:00 PM EST
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