I was taking my usual morning walk listening to Chip Franklin on KOGO radio and he did a funny piece that was simulcast on the local NBC television station about the completion of the digital television transition slated for Feb. 17. I think you’ll get a kick out of it, as Chip talks to people here in San Diego who clearly have no clue what is scheduled to happen on that date or what DTV actually stands for.
Meanwhile, there is a fair amount of post-CES rumbling coming from Washington bureaucrats and possibly our president-elect about rethinking next month’s timing for the analog shut-down as the nation moves to full digital television broadcasting.
All this noise aside, I say let’s get on with it.
Public service messages have been all over the airways for months now about the transition. Millions of coupons for $40 discounts have been distributed to consumers for digital converter boxes. And, interestingly, a huge percentage of them have not even been redeemed.
The reality is that the vast majority of Americans will not be affected, including those who have either cable or satellite service, which some estimate to encompass 85-90 percent of U.S. households. For folks with analog TVs, the cable and satellite providers who they currently use already take care of converting the digital signals so they can receive them on their old sets.
Beyond this, the Consumer Electronics Association reports that over 50 percent of the homes here in the States have invested in an HDTV set with a built-in, over-the-air digital tuner. Despite the economic woes, high-definition TV sales continue to be brisk, primarily driven by flat-panel LCD sets (like the Sony BRAVIA line) and, to a lesser degree, plasma televisions. There are also a large number of rear projection and some CRT digital televisions in American households, as well.
So, basically, this issue revolves around people who have old analog TVs and use either a roof-top antenna or rabbit ears for their reception. These are the folks who will need to get a converter box and certainly should take advantage of the government’s coupon program. And as I said earlier, millions have done so. However, upwards of 30-40 percent have not redeemed them yet at their local retailer. It makes me wonder if people who asked for the coupons early on really did not need them in the first place. Meanwhile, there now is a shortage of available coupons. But, like money, I’m sure the government can print more.
In any event, my view is that delaying the inevitable transition will only create more confusion among consumers and finger-pointing among politicians. Digital television is a good thing. The pictures are much better and the broadcasters can offer the public a greater variety of programming. Beyond this, the government can actually make some money (without raising taxes) by selling the analog signals for a variety of broadband and wireless applications. Plus, the government will get some spectrum for emergency broadcasting purposes.
My advice is to keep the DTV transition date and encourage our government officials to move on to other more important issues. Please.
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