Is a DTV Delay a Bailout for Procrastinators?


Last week, President-elect Obama suggested that the country push back the upcoming nationwide switch to digital TV (DTV) on Feb. 17. After bailing out banks, Wall Street and the automotive industry, would such a move just be bailing out procrastinators?

Nielsen reported in December that 7.8 million households (or 6.8 percent of homes with television) are completely unready for the DTV transition. With that in mind, a ruckus has erupted over a proposed DTV pushback, with camps forming on both sides. Which side are you on?


  • The Consumer’s Union (which publishes Consumer Reports) says that those affected would be rural, low-income and the elderly, and with the DTV converter coupon program out of money, these folks would be cut off from news and emergency broadcasts.
  • Broadcasters like NBC and ABC support a delay. (Though one has to suspect their motives are more about clinging to as many audiences members as possible than they are about helping the unfortunate.)
  • Politicians such as Rep. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) issued a statement last week saying “Moving the transition date entails significant logistical challenges. However, the prospect of leaving millions of consumers in the dark requires Congress to immediately consider the feasibility of the President-elect’s proposal.”


  • FCC Chairperson Kevin Martin thinks that any delay would cause consumer confusion. (An earlier study found that 90 percent of people were aware of the switch — though they weren’t fully informed as to what that meant).
  • Emergency first responders aren’t against the delay per se — they just want guarantees that any delays would not interfere with their access to the 24MHz of spectrum so they can communicate on the same frequencies nationally.
  • Many of you. Based on comments left on stories posted here, GigaOM and on The New York Times, there are lots of folks wondering what the point of a deadline is if you keep pushing it back. This switch has been coming for years, and millions have been spent on burning the Feb. 17 deadline into people’s heads.

It’s a tough call. I’m lucky enough to have a life that affords me a TV that won’t be affected by the switch. But I’m also a firm believer in deadlines, and am inclined to believe that a delay would just cause confusion, not just for consumers but throughout the entire TV chain.


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