DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor



Will Congress Hold Firm?

September 1, 2005 .... updated 9/12/05

I've changed the count-down banner on the home page from 41 to 40 months left till the shutoff of analog broadcasts. This is predicated on prior statements by key Congressional legislators that they intended to hold firm on their proposed December 31, 2008 end-of-transition date.

But apparently nothing is firm until it actually happens. I've been picking up vibrations coming out of Washington that the once sacrosanct end-2008 date may be vulnerable. At least one source is reporting that mid-2009 is now favored to prevent surprised TV viewers looking for the big January shows (eg. Superbowl) on NTSC. This of course assumes a failed transition education program, not to mention failed political will (the latter being nothing new).

On the House of Representatives side of Congress, Joe Barton's Committee had seemed adamant that the date would not go later than December 31, 2008. That date was described as "frozen."

The various special interests in the TV industry, however, while trying hard to not alienate those powerful members of Congress who favor an end-2008 date, have not kept secret their desire for the transition to keep cruising on long after then.

And they've been lobbying hard, especially in the Senate, where they have more friends, and where at least one highly-placed staffer is positioning himself to move into one of the TV industry's lucrative chief lobbyist slots. The talk seems to imply that if the legislation goes the right way, the shift would be in the bag.

If the Senate DTV transition bill sets a date later than end-2008, and the House bill says end-2008, then the issue will be decided in a House-Senate conference. Unfortunately, the "Sunshine in Government" rules that Congress established for the executive branch agencies do not apply to Congress, so any back-room deals will have to be deciphered by reading the tea-leaves after the fact.

House and Senate DTV-transition bills have to be sent to the respective budget committees no later than September 17; we should have content news by then.

One of the big arguments for an end-2008 date is to facilitate the timely return of erstwhile TV spectrum at the end of the transition for use by emergency response agencies. With the Hurricane Katrina disaster still at the top of the news, and the loss of communications in New Orleans by public safety organizations pointing up the importance of such communications, it would now seem politically difficult for Congress to delay the end of the transition any further.

So hopefully at the end of September I can change the "40" to "39," and the American consumer will not have to continue choosing between an obsolete analog TV standard and an unsupported digital standard.