In order to make things as confusing as possible in the big analog to digital TV transition, the US Senate has decided that what this clusterfuck needs just a dash more clusterfuckery.
Yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted unanimously to delay the DTV transition to June 12. However, over-the-air broadcast television stations that are ready to go now can still switch off their analog transmitters on the original "drop dead" date of Feb 17.
"The shameful truth is that we are not poised to do this transition right," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, who was the author of the original bill to delay the digital switch. "We are only weeks away from doing it dreadfully wrong — and leaving consumers with the consequences."
According to Neilsen data, as many as 6.5 million people are still unable to view digital television signals. Rockefeller's got a point: we predicted a year ago that this whole thing would turn into a colossal quagmire and be managed poorly.
And for some reason that completely escapes any logic, the $40 coupons that consumers could apply for to help offset the costs of purchasing an analog-to-digital convertor box came with a 90 day expiration date. According to estimates, nearly half of all coupons issued for converters have expired. And to further complicate things (as if it didnt need any more complication) the program that generates the coupons ran out of money and the waiting list for new coupons is now almost 2 million consumers long. Congress has agreed to sell off additional parts of the radio-frequency spectrum in order to raise funds to renew the coupon program a little while longer.
"I had serious concerns about shifting the digital television transition without a sound plan to inform consumers or address the converter box coupon shortage," said Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is the ranking member of the committee.
"A sound plan to inform consumers"? Come on! This is not something that just happened to jump up and catch TV viewers by surprise. Congress passed the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act back in 2005. About $1 billion dollars have been spent to inform consumers of the switch. There have been system tests, public service announcements, radio commercials, magazine ads, news reports etc. in every market in the country. For consumers to not know about the transition by this point in time they are either just plain ignorant of things going on around them or they live in a hermetically sealed bubble that doesn't get television (in which case, why would they care in the first place?)
And while we're at it, let's not use Grandma as an excuse either. According to the data, people over 55 were more ready for the transition than those 35 and younger. Thanks in no small part to the AARP who worked hard to make sure its members were informed.
At this point, I have little pity for the people that may be left out in the cold. Because of procrastination, we all get to watch our government spend more of our money by delaying the switch four months.
PBS CEO Paula Kerger has estimated that the delay would cost public broadcasters $22 million.
Meanwhile, communication companies like Verizon, Qualcom and AT&T who all have ponied up huge sums of money to snatch up the vacating frequencies have to cool their heels a little while longer, further delaying any new gadgets that take advantage of those RF frequencies.
The move to delay the DTV transition now goes to the House of Representatives for their vote sometime today.
Stay tuned (if you can).