The House of Representatives, after a fairly contentious debate, today passed the Bill extending the termination date for analog service by full-power TV stations, extending the Digital Television deadline until June 12. By that date, all full-power stations will need to complete the transition to digital so that, on June 13, there will be no
What a difference a few days makes. At the beginning of this week, it was full speed ahead for the February 17 termination of analog television. Then NTIA announced that it was out of money to pay for DTV coupons to assist the public in buying converter boxes so that analog TV sets will continue to work after the transition. This action, in turn, caused Consumers Union to ask Congress for a delay in the transition, resulting in Congressman Markey’s office suggesting that the DTV transition might need to be delayed (as we wrote yesterday). Today, the other shoe dropped as the Obama transition team formally wrote to Congress asking for a delay of the termination of analog television. That letter leaves everyone asking – will Congress respond? If so, what are the ramifications?
The NAB responded with a press release talking about how broadcasters are still prepared to meet the deadline, and how the deadline has focused all parties (TV stations, electronics manufacturers, cable and satellite companies) on doing what they need to do in order to be ready for the transition. But the Obama team’s call for the postponement does not seem to be focused on the readiness of program providers to accomplish the switch, but instead on the readiness of viewers to deal with the new digital environment, especially given the lack of coupons for last minute shoppers still waiting to buy their converter boxes. As we’ve written before, many in Washington are worried about the political ramifications of the transition – especially if millions of people wake up on February 18 and can’t watch the Today Show or Good Morning America. And while that is a legitimate concern, one wonders if it will ever be possible to prepare everyone for the transition deadline. Sure, if the deadline is postpone 4 or 5 months, there will be a marginal increase in people who are ready, but there will still be stragglers. Catching up to them all may never happen until they are hit with the reality of their analog sets not working on the day after the transition, whenever that day may be. If so, shouldn’t someone at least consider the costs that a delay will impose on broadcasters?
Several press reports were issued today suggesting that there is at least some consideration in Congress of delaying the DTV transition now scheduled to be completed on February 17. The consideration stems from the announcement that the NTIA (the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) had run out of money to issue the $40 coupons…
On Monday, the President signed into law a bill adjusting the reimbursement dates of the Low Power Television grant program by which LPTV and TV translator stations can seek a $1,000 grant in order to ensure that they are able to continue to receive and rebroadcast the signals of primary full-power television stations once the full-power stations complete the transition to digital television. In late 2007, the government announced the start of the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program designed to help translators and low power television stations continue their analog broadcasts after the February 17, 2009 conversion of full-power television stations to DTV. Specifically, the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Conversion grant program will provide funds to eligible translators and LPTV stations that need to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box in order to convert the incoming signal of a full-power DTV station to analog format for retransmission on the analog LPTV station. The program has been funded with a total of $8 million, which is available in $1,000 grants to eligible LPTV stations. As a result of the recent change, funds granted through the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program will available beginning in fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 – Sept. 30, 2009), rather than in fiscal year 2011. In addition, the recent bill also extends the availability of funding through fiscal year 2012.
Any low-power television broadcast station, Class A television station, television translator station, or television booster station that meets the following three criteria may apply for the grant to defray the cost of the digital-to-analog converter box:
- It is itself broadcasting exclusively in analog format;
- It has not purchased a digital-to-analog conversion device prior to February 8, 2006; and
- It is (or will be) re-transmitting the off-air digital signal of a full-power DTV station.
Applications for this grant program are being accepted until February 17, 2009. Priority compensation will be given to eligible LPTV stations licensed to 501(c) non-profit entities or LPTV stations serving a rural area of fewer than 10,000 viewers. Thus, priority is given to stations owned by translator associations and others that might not otherwise be able to afford the costs of converting the signals that they receive from analog to digital, and which might, without the grants, go off the air. More information on how to apply for such grants is available on the NTIA’s website here.