Postponing the postponement


The House Committee on Energy and Commerce was going to mark up a bill on the DTV transition Wednesday that includes putting off the DTV deadline until June. Now the markup session is put off. Committee chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) is ready to move ahead with a postponement and says it is sorely needed, but is concerned about Republican delaying tactics in the Senate. So his delay of the delay appears to be for strategic analysis, not legislative fine-tuning.

“The transition to digital television is not going well. There is not enough money for the converter box coupon program and millions of Americans could experience serious problems. Delay of the deadline is our only hope of lessening the impact on millions of consumers. Without a short, one-time extension, millions of households will lose all television reception. Late last week Senate Republicans blocked a bill to delay the transition date. I have postponed Committee consideration of the DTV markup to give the Committee more time to assess the implications of the Senate action.”

Meanwhile, a prime news source for people in Washington, including legislators and their staffs, has a report predicting widespread problems among broadcast-only households. The Washington Post, citing a report from Centris, says that as many as 58% of consumers in this category will lose at least one or two stations as a result of the transition due to variations in station coverage contours. 11% of all broadcast stations are expected to lose at least 2% of their viewers in this manner. Most consumer calls in the Wilmington NC test case, however, involved apparent failures of an analog-to-digital converter boxes. However, the box was rarely the problem. In some cases changing station contours were the culprit, but more often consumers had skipped the step in which they activate the box’s scan-for-stations function.

RBR/TVBR observation: It looks like the question is whether or not the Senate Republicans are going to build a fort around the 2/17/09 date and defend it to the bitter end. If they do and it goes on schedule, and there are problems, they will inherit full responsibility. Besides blame for any failures, there is little to gain if they do enforce the original date (other than making a small contingent of stakeholders happy), so if they sit back and weigh their own risk v. reward, the risk will probably not seem worth taking. So at this point, if we were betting editors, we’d be betting on a delay.