Friday, January 9, 2009

One prediction already wrong?

Last week I wrote

One prediction I will stand by: digital TV is coming, and analog TV will be gone by mid-February.
This morning’s Washington Post reported
Obama Urges Delay In Digital TV Switch
Converter Program Out of Funding
By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009; Page D01

The push to postpone the nation's switch to digital television next month got a boost yesterday when a top aide to President-elect Barack Obama sent a letter to key members of Congress urging a delay, saying there is "insufficient support" for the problems consumers will experience during the shut-off of analog signals.
Serves me right for believing all those TV ads promising that NTSC will be discontinued on February 17.

The push is coming from the activists who publish Consumer Reports. While I find the switching irritating, I agree with the suggestion in InfoWeek that this is a terrible idea. Alexander Wolfe argues that it’s a bad idea because it’s easy to fix (more money for converter box coupons) and since the transition will be painful whenever it happens, we ought to just get it over with.

I’m thinking more broadly: an inconsistency of regulation is one of the most damaging things that government does to business. The entire industry has been preparing for this date for five years, and to chicken out now because one magazine and a few politicians are timid is just craven pandering of the worst kind.

When business can’t trust that the rules will be predictable, it holds off on making investments for the future. An arbitrary and capricious approach to policy — no hearings, no studies, no empirical evidence — would mark the new administration as being an unreliable leader of the national economy, further reducing the already low level of business confidence.

I think someone suggested the idea to the transition team because it sounded decisive and it catered to a key party interest group. I’m hoping some experienced telecom economist (such as those as the FCC) will straighten them out pronto.

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