Why Obama’s DTV delay is a bad idea

(iStock)There’s talk in Washington of a delay of the transition to digital TV. I can understand the reasoning – the federal program that offered $40 vouchers for those who want to buy the devices needed to pick up digital signals, ran out of money.

While I sympathize with the reasoning, delaying the transition is a very bad idea. Here are four reasons why:

(1) It turns a minor bungle (the underfunded voucher program) into a much bigger bungle. For years now, the switchover date has been drilled into our heads. To push back the date is going to cause more confusion than just biting the bullet and going through with it.

(2) Second, the transition has been, if anything, far too overhyped. According to a recent report by Nielsen, only 5.7% of households are unprepared for the transition.

(3) Despite what many may believe, TV is not a necessity. If anything, the Internet has become a medium critical to interaction with the world. TV is a perk. For those affected by the transition, either find $40 for the converter, or visit local libraries to access content via hulu.com or YouTube.

(4) This may seem harsh, and some might ask “why does it matter?” Because not switching over holds back 100% of the US population. Verizon bought up the frequency freed up by the transition, and is utilizing that spectrum to drive its 4G technology, LTE, into the marketplace by the end of 2009. Delays in the transition may delay the advancement of the US infrastructure.

I find it humorous that the government is pushing for a delay of DTV while at the same time President Obama’s administration is pushing for broadband. The government’s stance on digital TV illustrates a deep understanding of the limited reach of hardwired infrastructure, and the need to support over-the-air (OTA) transmission of content. Meanwhile, the government is throwing its support behind broadband (a hardwired solution whose days are numbered) and turning a blind eye to the OTA solution on the horizon.

And yet two thirds of those without broadband aren’t interested in getting it. Of those with broadband, they want faster speeds. 4G technology would reach the third of users that don’t have broadband but would like it. It would provide faster speeds for everyone else with a cable or DSL broadband connection. And it would provide that connection across devices, from mobiles to desktops. Verizon is the one company that is pushing hardest to help the US catch up to the rest of the world in digital access, with its efforts in both fiber and 4G.

The government should be supporting this attempt, not potentially delaying it. Especially when there are potential conflicts of interest in the Obama administration.

We need to embrace the future, not dally in the past. Things in the digital age move too fast for that.