January 30, 2009

The DTV delay story: The gift that keeps on giving

It's a legislative and public-policy train wreck, no question, but for a tech blogger like me, well … the ongoing back-and-forth over the DTV transition date is pure gold.

First, the $1.5-million government program that hands out $40 coupons for DTV converter boxes -- which those with analog TVs and over-the-air antennas will need if they want their TVs to work after the analog TV shutoff -- ran out of money. Next, the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers proposed pushing back the impending Feb. 17 DTV transition date to June 12, to give everyone more time to prepare. Republicans said no -- that'll cause too much confusion, and it would put too much burden on TV stations and wireless companies that have been planning years ahead for the switch.

Following so far? Good. So Monday rolls around, and the Senate passes Jay Rockefeller's DTV delay bill, and everyone (including me) writes that a delay in the DTV transmission is inevitable. But on Wednesday, the fast-tracked bill goes before the House, and -- whoops! -- fails to win the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. (Republicans ganged up on the bill, as did a handful of Democrats; the final vote was 258-168, just shy of the necessary two-thirds.) DTV delay dead, right?

Wrong. Thursday night, the Senate passes (unanimously) a slightly tweaked version of the same bill, which now appears headed for a House vote next week under standard adoption rules -- meaning that it only needs a simply majority to pass. And it will, right? Well ... who knows, given all the twists and turns in the DTV saga so far.

Now personally, I think we should just go ahead and flip the switch; after all, I'm not sure how a mere four months will clean up the mess, nor get us any closer to 100-percent readiness for DTV (and besides, about 94 percent of the country is ready).

That said ... talk about a great story. I can't wait to see what happens next.


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