A day after the Obama transition team wrote to Congress suggesting that the DTV transition now scheduled for February 17 be delayed, there are indications that a bandwagon effect is beginning to develop in favor of such a delay. Broadcasting and Cable magazine’s website reports that the four major TV networks have indicated that they support a delay in the transition if it will better serve their viewers, and that Senator Rockefeller has started drafting legislation to delay the transition. The New York Times featured a guest editorial from two former FCC Chairmen – Republican Michael Powell and Democrat William Kennard – supporting the delay (and mentioning one of the same issues that we had mentioned the day before – the need for education of consumers about the need for different antennas to receive the digital signal). But others are not so sure that a delay makes sense.
While the NY Times editorial may make it look like the delay request is a bipartisan effort, there are other indications that there is at least some evidence of partisan differences beginning to develop. The NY Times today quotes Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as opposing a change. Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the delay will confuse consumers, while Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein is quoted in the same article as being sympathetic to the postponement. While the political groups are taking sides, many in industry seem reluctant to delay the transition date.
Wireless companies, including some who have already paid at FCC auctions for the right to use spectrum to be freed up when TV stations are compacted into less spectrum after the transition deadline, are also anxious to begin the use of that spectrum. But, as we wrote on Thursday, it is many TV broadcasters who are most concerned about the transition. Harry Jessell, in his TV NewsDay column, echoed our concerns about the costs that broadcasters would have to bear to delay the transition that they’ve already made preparations for (yet he urged broadcasters to accept the transition if the new administration insisted on it, as there will no doubt be more important political battles ahead for which broadcasters need to save their political capital – perhaps explaining the NAB not taking a strong position on the issue, and the networks’ quick agreement).
One question not addressed by any of the discussion is whether the delay in the transition would be mandatory or optional. Honolulu is ready to make the transition this week, following Wilmington as the second all-digital market. Will other markets be able to opt for early transition? Or will stations on their own be able to make such changes, as some already have – going all-digital with even while other stations remain analog in their markets, with seemingly little or no objection. These and other timing questions – revisiting the choreography of stations that need to sequentially make the transition to have it all work, both voluntary agreements or through FCC-mandated dates – will need to be resolved in order to make the transition work. Lots to do, and only 36 days to do it.