Thursday, February 5, 2009

DTV pandering hits telecom operators

The House voted Wednesday to support President Obama’s plan to delay the end of over-the-air NTSC broadcasts to June 12. Despite all the public announcements we have been hearing from a year ago through this week, the DTV changeover will not happen on February 17.

The delay will prevent Qualcomm from rolling out is MediaFlo mobile phone TV service for another three months. Efforts to exempt four key markets were ignored. Two of the markets Qualcomm asked to exempt were Boston and San Francisco: if these markets are not tech savvy and educated enough to understand that DTV is coming, who is — or ever will be?

Verizon will also be impacted in their use of the 700 MHz spectrum, which they planned to use for their LTE rollout. Congress did not vote to refund a portion of the billions paid in the auction for the spectrum. The three most affected companies — Qualcomm, Verizon and AT&T — paid a total of $16.6 billion in the 700 MHz auctions.

This is bad policy on so many levels. Besides pulling the rug out from under businesses that made these multi-billion dollar investments, there is no evidence that the delay will have any significant impact on the supposed 6 million households that are not ready. If they are watching TV, they have seen the ads, and another 4 months of ads are not going to change that. Last month, the leading House opponent said it best:

“I guarantee you, no matter when you set the date — Feb. 17, June 12, July the Fourth, Valentine's Day — there are going to be some people that aren't ready,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas).
A majority of Congress seems to think otherwise. Of course, this is the same Congress that sold the spectrum, mandated (and previously delayed) the switchover and decided how much funding to provide for converter boxes. Perhaps if an independent commission will at long last consider Congressional culpability for the financial meltdown, perhaps they could move on to the DTV debacle after that.

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