DTV Transition Anything but Clear

In another example of government intervention hindering the progress of business and making somethidtv_trans_main_270ng as simple as watching television a mess, congress has again pushed back the Digital TV transition to June 17, 2009. The delay is not only going to frustrate customers who have already made the necessary changes but will dramatically increase some broadcasters costs (more on this later).

“What’s the reason for the delay,” you ask? Well, it appears as though about 5% of Americans who have older televisions and still get their signal over-the-air via a traditional antenna will get to watch salt and pepper wars instead of their judge shows and favorite sitcoms when the analog signal is no longer broadcast.  This despite the years of hubbub about the switch and the government coupon program worth $1.34 billion to help people buy a digital converter box.  Not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by TV broadcasters to let people know about the switch. 

You might be asking why the switch to DTV in the first place. A very good question indeed! First of all, the switch to DTV was NOT prompted by broadcasters or by consumers.  Instead, it was the result of The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. What?! What does The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 have to do with DTV transition? To summarize a long and painfull story someone in congress figured out that the analog signals currently used by TV broadcasters could garner more dollars for the Federal Communications Commission if TV stations were forced to begin broadcasting in digital – which uses a different band. (Click for more on TV bands.) This forced transition to Digital TV would allow the government to re-sell the analog bands to communications companies that would want access to the additional bandwidth that the freed-up bands would provide.

The DTV transition does provide many benefits for viewers and stations alike including subchannels for broadcasters and a much clearer picture with High Defenition broadcasts.  Keep in mind that just because a signal is Digital, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is HD.  Many in government compare the increased clarity to the difference between black and white TV and color TV or VHS to DVD.  And they are correct in their comparisons with one itty-bitty, teensy-weensy, difference.  Color TV and DVD’s popularity was consumer driven NOT government mandated.  Big difference. When consumers want something they will generally get it and the market provides it as fast as consumers will buy it. But when good ol’ Uncle Sam makes it manadtory chaos ensues.

This gets us back to my one of my original statements about increased costs for broadcasters.  To make this simple I will skip alot of the jargon and technical terms and get right to the point.  Yesterday the FCC ruled that some stations in smaller markets who were going to (or already had) switch to digital-only broadcasts by the previously mandated date of February 17th now CANNOT. Broadcasters who spent the millions of dollars to buy new transmitters, control technology, training for their engineers, etc., and got it all working now have to broadcast both analog AND digital signals until June 17th.  Besides the outrageous electricity bills the TV stations will be paying (by the way, the FCC doesn’t reimburse) they now have to replace aging analog equipment when it finally dies only to have it be completely obsolete and useless when they go fully digital June 17th.  As you may have guessed Billings, MT has been selected as one of those markets where TV stations will need to continue to broadcast analog signals (along with their digital signals in most cases) until June 17th.

Thankfully, if you have already made the switch and are currently getting your local channels in Digital format you won’t be affected. So when you switch on your new fully-digital, high-definition, flat-screen television and enjoy that beautifully clear signal just know that you are helping reduce our national defecit. You go, you defecit-reducing, HD-watching patriot!

For more information on DTV and the eventual transition, see

Thanks for reading and God speed!

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