DTV Transition: Another Fine Mess

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It is always fascinating watching government try to dig itself out of a hole that it creates for itself. Usually the solution selected is to dig faster.

The latest case in point, as I humbly predicted, has to do with the US digital television transition. Other countries can learn a lot about how not to make the transition from analog to digital broadcasting by watching what is happening here.

With the impending delay of the transition to the 12th of June by the "DTV Delay Actâ'', the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had to issue new rules broadcasters must follow if they wish to terminate their analog television broadcast service on or after February 17, 2009.

Now, stations that want to terminate their analog systems on the 17th of February must inform the FCC that they intend to do so by today (11:59 p.m. EST) - even if they had done so previously. They also must air from tomorrow (11:59 p.m. EST) through February 14 (11:59 p.m. EST), a public service announcement "crawl" for 5 minutes of every hour of the stationâ''s analog broadcast day, including during primetime of their intent to terminate analog service.

For the final two days, February 16 (11:59 p.m. EST) through February 17 (11:59 p.m. EST), the crawl must be aired for 10 minutes of every hour of the stationâ''s analog broadcast day, including during primetime.

If you don't see a crawl this week while you are watching TV, you can be pretty sure that TV station isn't moving to digital this weekend.

If broadcasters don't want to switch from analog to digital broadcasting on the 17th of February, their next opportunity will be on the 14th of March, as long as they give the FCC and their viewers thirty days notice.

So, under the new rules, the US could see a rolling hodgepodge of DTV transitions, instead of one big bang transition.

The only silver lining may be that because of the DTV delay, an adequate supply of converter boxes may actually be available for purchase. According to Saul Hansell's tech blog at the New York Times, there is a converter box shortage along with a converter box coupon shortage.

Given the shortages, if the transition had taken place this weekend, the political outcry would have really been fascinating to watch - kind of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I am half sorry this won't be happening - but then again, I have a strange sense of humor.

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