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DTV Transition: Now What?

Analysis from TV Technology

Now that the U.S. ouse has said no to moving the DTV transition date, what next?

RW sister publication TV Technology reports:

The minority party in the House of Representatives generally can do very little to block the will of the majority, but House Republicans managed to dig in this week against the Democrat-backed legislation to postpone the DTV transition.

Wednesday’s attempt to suspend House rules and shoot the legislation straight to the House floor failed to get the two-thirds majority required, handing what some observers called President Obama’s first legislative defeat.

But the Republican delay of the DTV delay may be short-lived; the House is set to run the bill through again, using simple majority votes in committee to advance the bill to the floor, where a simple majority could pass it.

The House doesn’t go back into session until next week— when the Feb. 17 deadline for ending full-power analog broadcasts will be just two weeks away.

The move follows a roller-coaster week for the legislation. Some press tagged the delay as a “done deal” following a bipartisan compromised reached among leaders of the Senate Committee, followed by the bill’s Senate passage by unanimous consent.

Republicans, led by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Commerce Committee, have opposed a delay on the grounds that it would cause consumer confusion only help a small percentage of the public and have instead supported moves to fix the coupon program.

Barton linked the delay to the threat of terrorist attack, noting that Osama bin Laden “isn’t waiting” for America to get its spectrum in the hands of public-safety users.

Some broadcasters have also pointed to numerous costs and complications in the delay, as described by TV Technology columnist Doug Lung.

“It’s quite problematic,” Don Doty, co-founder of tower Doty Moore Tower Services, said this week of a potential delay. “There are literally millions of dollars of contracts around the country for people to move at the last minute.”

Work is needed to move DTV antennas to the preferred positions on towers, and some analog gear is set to be handed down to other viewers.

Some stations are waiting for analog transmissions to cease so their DTV signals can shift to those channels.

“The coordination for the transition had been in place in some cases for years,” Doty said.

Also, public-safety and wireless users may delay plans for rollout and testing; and the costs of the changes will trickle down to specialty companies, including many small businesses.

Doty said the costs of the delay to the industries ancillary to broadcasting could be in the millions of dollars. That’s not even counting the cost of keeping an analog transmitter on for the extra four months; PBS has reported that the switch will cost $22 million.

“There are many, many, hundreds of companies affected in a negative way,” he said.

Also, the change has the potential to confuse millions of viewers who are finally coming around to believe the ongoing threat that full-power analog broadcasting would end at midnight on Feb. 17. With hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ad time already used to highlight the Feb. 17 date, there are stacks of PSAs, informational flyers and more that will suddenly become relics of the controversy.

The change may derail other plans. Qualcomm, which has plans to deploy its MobiTV in various markets across the country, could face millions of dollars in new costs and lost revenues.