Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The DTV Transition Looks Set To Go Into Overtime

This morning's Post brings the news that the switch from analog to digital TV broadcasts, currently scheduled to conclude on Feb. 17, looks like it's going to get pushed back to June 12. The Senate voted to delay the switch yesterday, leaving only a House vote in favor before a likely signing by President Obama, who urged the delay earlier this month.

The Senate and the president have plenty of company in their view, but I'm not sure this is such a good idea. Let's consider three of the most widely-cited reasons for a delay.

* "People can't get any more of the $40 coupons intended to subsidize purchases of digital-TV converter boxes. A delay will allow the government to restart the coupon program."

This is the best argument for postponing the analog switchoff. This program has not always been well explained and arguably started too soon -- some people apparently ordered coupons that expired before their local stores had enough converters in stock. And now the coupon machinery has seized up, as too many people have claimed coupons but not redeemed them.

But unless this program is greatly expanded, somebody will wind up not being able to claim a coupon he or she would like to get -- this was never intended to underwrite converter boxes for every single analog TV in existence. (If you think it should, I have to ask you why you regard TV as an entitlement and not, say, health care.)

* "People don't want to have to go on roofs to install new antennas in the middle of winter."

OK, fair enough -- although a large chunk of America doesn't face this restriction, and many DTV viewers only need table-top antennas. (As I type this, the cheapo model I bought 12 years ago has allowed a Zenith converter box to stay locked on WETA's digital channels, snowfall and everything, for the last hour.) This weather rationale does suggest we should have staged a rolling shutoff of analog TV, starting in America's warmer regions, but we've only tip-toed into that strategy. Analog broadcasts ended in Wilmington, N.C., back in September, and Hawaii's TV stations shut off their analog stations earlier this month. These earlier transitions also give people a chance to see that the world won't end when analog TV does... which brings me to the third justification for a delay:

* "People are still confused and need more time to figure this out."

Here I don't think a delay will help matters. On one hand, it's not like this transition has crept up on people -- the first digital broadcasts went on the air at the end of the previous millennium, and over the last year or so it's become increasingly hard to miss news of the transition in ads on TV, notices in stores, and stories in the paper and online. On the other hand, a lot of the concerns people express about DTV aren't founded in reality -- for example, worries about being able to watch old videotapes or keep tuning into cable TV -- and the simplest way to put those concerns at rest is to finish the transition.

There are also opportunity costs to procrastination. Today's story by my colleague Kim Hart notes a few identified by opponents of a delay:

But some Republicans say that changing the date would further confuse consumers and create additional costs for broadcasters who have made extensive preparations to switch next month. Wireless companies and public safety agencies also are waiting for airwaves that will be freed by the transition.

Postponing the analog shutoff also means postponing the upgrades some stations are planning to make to their digital signals once they can unplug their analog transmitters. After I wrote last week's column, another tech journalist pointed me to the maps the Federal Communications Commission recently published to illustrate its estimates of digital-TV reception after the analog shutoff; see, for instance, its plots of Washington-area stations' signals (PDF). If the FCC's math comes reasonably close to the truth, digital TV stands to get notably better once analog TV is out of the way, especially in rural areas.

Now it seems we'll have to wait on that improvement. But we'd better get the digital transition over with -- for real -- in June. There will still be angst and confusion, no matter how long we postpone the transition. Meanwhile, other countries have already wrapped up their own digital transitions; I hate to phrase things like this, but at some point we're just going to have to rip the band-aid off.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 27, 2009; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  TV  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: PostPoints tip: Rent iTunes movies for less
Next: Gmail Goes Offline (In A Good Way)

Comments

"this was never intended to underwrite converter boxes for every single analog TV in existence. (If you think it should, I have to ask you why you regard TV as an entitlement and not, say, health care.)"

It seems you are an editorial writer, not an investigative journalist.

United States Constitution Fifth Amendment
". . . nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

In order for the government to make $19 billion on the sale of broadcast spectrum, the government plans to effectively take our analog television sets from us for profit. You seem to think it's generous of the government to cut us in on a tiny bit of the take. I think it's a symptom of the excessive and disgusting greed that has become the hallmark of American culture that there is a willingness to squeeze cash from the poorest of the poor for these converters. How many of those 19 billion would it have taken to hand out for free converter boxes and antennas to compensate for the destruction of the utility of analog TVs? Let's be honest. There is nothing in this for the benefit of the people who are having their property taken from them. In fact, here in California if you want to throw away a TV set they charge you a substantial hazardous waste fee. All of the money and benefit is for the government and big business. For that we are being robbed of our property as well as our time and attention. What kind of cheerleading journalism does this article represent? Perhaps the cheerleading journalism of a corporate tool. Let's not forget all of the handheld TVs which are owned, needed. and used in case of power outages,including emergencies, for which there is no technological solution. Those should simply have been replaced with new digital ones, and it should have been paid for by the fees from the sale of the digital spectrum. They get the benefit and we pay. If there was no merit in my legal argument, I guarantee you there would have been no coupon program. They obviously intended to forestall a class action.

Posted by: daughtkomm | January 27, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

One additional point--

Upon rereading your article, I realzed it illustrates the poison which has been infused into American culture in the decades since the culture of greed was introduced in the 1980s.

You actually are more concerned as to the quality of the digital signal for the haves, than whether there will be any signal at all for the have nots. It is apparently OK with you for millions of people who cannot afford the extra equipment to have no TV. Those people don't count, so long as those better off can enjoy their pleasures with a superior signal. Likewise, it doesn't matter if people get hurt climbing onto roofs, so long as you and your friends and other people like you can enjoy yourselves. This callous disregard of people for each other is illustrative of the lack of moral values which is bringing this country to its knees.

Posted by: daughtkomm | January 27, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I don't think they are taking away our analog tv sets for profit. One of the reason for the switch is to free up analog frequencies for first responders and emergency use.

Also, the switch to digital affects just the big broadcasters. Small, local stations can continue to broadcast in analog mode. See the FAQ at: https://www.dtv2009.gov/lowpower/

Besides, all the coupon program gives is a $40 discount. It's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things

Posted by: tundey | January 27, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

wow @ daughtkomm. Did Rob kick your dog?

"callous disregard of people for each other..." really? Just because a deadline that's been in place for years is approaching?

Posted by: tundey | January 27, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

With all respect, they could delay the transition for fourteen years, and a significant number of folks will just ignore it, and refuse to do anything about it, and will be caught flat-footed when it happens. Rip off the bleepin' Band-Aid.

Posted by: mdean3 | January 27, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

$40 is a great deal of money if you recently lost almost everything. There's also the unmentioned cost of a new digital antenna. When they talk about the number of "unprepared" households, how have they counted people like me, who have decided that it's not worth it (partly because my signal on analog is lousy, so I doubt that I'll get many digital channels)? I'm becoming a big fan of Hulu and my local library.

Posted by: ms_babbage | January 27, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

The contention that the public will benefit from having whatever few analog frequencies big business doesn't want to buy opened for emergency communications is just an excuse and cover for the real profit motive. That profit only starts with the $19 billion dollars. Big business wants to use the rest of the analog for new wireless services which no doubt will generate new revenues for the government in the long run. Moreover, at the same time emergency services will supposedly be improved by this, emergency communication with the public will be severely damaged as television communication with the public is cut off, so it's obvious emergencies are not a real interest here. So see it for what it is. It's hard to believe people are so naiive they believe whatever the government tells them in a day and age when politicians have been repeatedly exposed as liars and criminals. Are you very young, Tundey? Things are not always as they seem. Any sum of money is a lot of money if you don't have it to spare. Can I come into your wallet and spend some of yours for you? If you don't think $40 is a big deal, maybe you should go buy a converter for someone who needs one. I have to say I find it somewhat shocking the negative attitude towards people who haven't jumped up and bent over at the government's command for whatever reason. I guess this generation is the bend over generation. Perhaps this is what comes from accustoming children to authoritarian regimes in public schools where they learn to accept having dogs sniff them, guards rifle through their belongings, and officious people tell them what to wear and whom they can offend.

Posted by: daughtkomm | January 27, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

To ms_babbage:

There is no such thing as a 'digital antenna'. Any normal antenna works fine. You may need a better one, depending on your location, but generally speaking, any antenna will work.

Posted by: aaronw1 | January 27, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I called my congressman to tell him not to vote for a delay. I view this as similar to a term paper which the professor warns the students about all semester. The students who are paying attention spend the time to complete the assignment before the deadline. The slackers wait until the last minute and then ask for an extension. Why should the vast majority of Americans have to pay the price for our oblivious countrymen, who have somehow missed out on the coverage of the switchover for years?

Nobody's going to die if his TV goes blank next month; it's just TV. If you're afraid of missing emergency broadcasts, buy a radio.

Posted by: bokamba | January 27, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I believe that the government has done a terrible job of explaining what is really going on, but a time extension is not going to fix the problem.

For example, one reader has commented on the need for a new digital antenna. This is false. All DTV stations are broadcasting in the existing UHF band. If you already have an antenna that can tune analog channels between 14 and 69, you do not need a new antenna (unless the antenna is in bad shape and should be replaced anyway). Anyone that tells you differently either doesn't know what they are talking about or are hoping to sell you something you don't need (which probably describes 95% of the people working at Best Buy or Circuit City).

Another reader has said that an analog TV is now worthless, which is also false. A VCR, DVD player, video game system, satellite TV, cable TV, etc can still work. The DTV converter box is only an "adaptor" that allows you to continue to receive television over the air.

DTV itself can be a bit confusing. For example, with analog television, one channel means one video feed. But DTV is much more efficient and that limitation no longer exists. One channel can include multiple video feeds. For example, my local ABC station broadcasts on channel 7. If I tune to the DTV channel 7 I receive normal the normal ABC channel, but in high definition. However, I am also given the option of two addition "subchannels". One is a 24-hour news channel. The other is a 24-hour weather channel. The audio is the NOAA weather radio for my area. The video is a live National Weather Service radar image. From time to time the local forecast is shown and from time to time the marine forecast is shown. Additionally, all National Weather Service warnings and advisories are printed on the screen. This is all free of charge and is an incredibly valuable safety feature, especially for those living in rural areas without high-speed internet.

Posted by: barto1 | January 27, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

"the cheapo model I bought 12 years ago has allowed a Zenith converter box to stay locked on WETA's digital channels, snowfall and everything, for the last hour." My Apex converter box from Best Buy cannot lock onto WETA's digital signal on a good day, from just a few miles away, using any of the 3 different antennas I've tried. Over-the-air DTV is a joke.

Posted by: chrisstutts | January 27, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

""After I wrote last week's column, another tech journalist pointed me to the maps the Federal Communications Commission recently published to illustrate its estimates of digital-TV reception after the analog shutoff; see, for instance, its plots of Washington-area stations' signals (PDF). If the FCC's math comes reasonably close to the truth, digital TV stands to get notably better once analog TV is out of the way, especially in rural areas""

Well,if those maps are any indication, we are in real trouble.

Checking the map for my location, the propagation map is 100 percent over optimistic when compared to real world performance.

In a rural area, I am using a mast mounted directional high gain UHF TV antenna with coaxial feed and getting a poor but acceptable analog picture, the map shows the existing analog signal and the new digital signal reaching another 40 miles past me! No way! Do I get the digital signal?? No, not good enough to get a picture!

My antenna system is in excellent condition and I know what I am doing... been a ham radio operator for 40 years.

Unmentioned is the fact that with a digital signal you will either get a great picture... or no picture. No "inbetween" like with an analog signal. This "digital cliff" effect will be pronounced in the Western USA, especially if there are a lot of mountains, etc.

So even in urban areas like LA, San Francisco, etc., and you are getting an analog picture with an indoor UHF loop, depending on location you might have to upgrade to an external UHF antenna... and with no guarantee that will work if you are in a propagation shadow!!!

People on the East Coast, and people in some urban areas will do OK with just a converter box, but a lot of people in fringe areas are in for a big surprise.

Posted by: plaza04433 | January 27, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

"Another reader has said that an analog TV is now worthless, which is also false. A VCR, DVD player, video game system, satellite TV, cable TV, etc can still work. The DTV converter box is only an "adaptor" that allows you to continue to receive television over the air."

The analog TV BY ITSELF is worthless. It has no use to anyone who does not want to or cannot afford to spend money on something else, whether it is a DTV converter or any of the options mentioned above. If we do slide into a genuine economic Depression, perhaps some of yous smug commenters will have a personal opportunity to develop your empathy.

Posted by: daughtkomm | January 27, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

chrisstutts wrote:

"My Apex converter box from Best Buy cannot lock onto WETA's digital signal on a good day, from just a few miles away, using any of the 3 different antennas I've tried. Over-the-air DTV is a joke."

Yeah... this is the sort of thing that can happen with DTV, obstructions combined with the "digital cliff" effect will make things real interesting. The broadcasters themselves are real worried about this.

Posted by: plaza04433 | January 27, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I are currently satisfied with the over-the-air analog channels we receive, as we don't watch a lot of TV and don't want to spend the money for cable. I have a roof mounted antenna and a converter box. According to antennaweb.org, all of the transmitters for the digital channels that I want to receive are located about 15 miles from my house on a narrow azimuth bearing. When I tried my digital channel reception about a month ago, all I got was two channels, one of which was Spanish language. This is supposed to be progress?

Posted by: Charley5 | January 27, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I need to ask: Is Rush Limbaugh or a copycat national radio host whipping up the loudmouth arguments that (1) people who have encountered any problem with the DTV transition are lazy minorities and (2) the public airwaves are a luxury item that needn't be accessible to anyone without means to buy cable TV packages or new digital equipment.

I suspect it's beyond coincidental when those 2 arguments, phrased just the same and without a thought to back them up, are getting repeated over and over on the majority of Internet comment boards about postponing the permanent shutdown of analog TV broadcasts.

What say you, dittoheads?


Posted by: trialvisit | January 27, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

daughtkomm, perrhaps you should take some time to learn the difference between a blog post, a newspaper article, an investigative report, and an editorial. Then you can start your rant over.

Posted by: larrymac | January 28, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Rob, thanks for posting the link to my HDTV Almanac in your column. I'm glad that you found the entry on the FCC maps to be helpful. As another reader pointed out, these maps are theoretical; as far as I know, the FCC has not published any extensive or systematic mapping of actual signal strength at different locations, so it's quite possible that people closer may have difficulties getting a signal, while people further away may not have any problem.

Posted by: AlfredPoor | January 28, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

In my Fort Lauderdale hi rise (steel and concrete)
apartment building it is impossible to get any watchable analog TV signal.
With rabbit ears and Zenith converter box I get perfect pictures (40 stations including sub channels) from both Miami and West Palm Beach stations.
I am enthusiastic about the digital sub channels; they are great.
Who said that TV was free? Seen any good commercials lately?

Posted by: wuzonce | January 28, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

When something is taken away, and it costs some effort and money to get it back, no one is happy about especially if more (junk) channels and a super picture on a big screen are not priorities. Those of us who are into that already have cable or satellite with HD boxes.

Let us not delay the switch. Maybe if enough people get angry enough, the government will respect the property of the people.

I have not been aware of any minimum performance specifications for either the converter boxes or the signals from the TV stations. Apparently the broadcasters really are not worried about losing viewers due to reception problems.

Posted by: george_b_42 | January 28, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

The digital transition has been in the works for over 7 years? And some people are just hearing about it now? Get your heads out of you burrows folks. Are there still some who haven't heard we landed on the moon?

Posted by: theetomm | January 28, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

It should be noticed that the House shot down the bill to delay the change-over this morning.

Let's get on to more pressing things like, oh, the economy, healthcare, what have you?

DLD

Posted by: DLDx | January 28, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company