The 700Mhz spectrum of the airwaves could be… well, up in the air! While the transition to digital TV is poised to happen on February 17, last week President-Elect Barack Obama suggested that this be delayed. He cited that many poor and elderly TV viewers could be left with just static when the switch over is made next month.
Of course, the timing of this announcement took place during the Consumer Electronics Show and stole some of the event’s thunder. Being at the show, it certainly was generating considerable discussion. While the delay could be a mere 90 days – and hey, what’s 90 days after we’ve waited this long – anything longer could derail plans for those who are hoping to occupy the 700Mhz spectrum.
Once analog TV switches off, this empty spectrum won’t remain vacant for long. Both AT&T and Verizon Communications have 700Mhz spectrum licenses, which they can’t use until the broadcasters tune out. AT&T has reportedly said that the delay would be worthwhile if it ensures a smoother transition, but Verizon has reportedly said a delay could cause confusion and make the transition even worse than it has been.
As a long-time cable subscriber and TV junkie I’m not really one of those affected (and for the record August 21 is a personal holiday to me, as that is the day – way back in 1982 – that my family first received the cable hook-up). But that said I understand how there has been some confusion. The government has run out of the coupons for set top boxes, many coupons were sent out and not redeemed, only to have since expired.
However, this has been a long time going. There will be confusion no matter when this happens. Nearly every station, and even PBS (which this reporter will go out on a limb and say whose time has long passed given what cable TV has to offer) have all gone out of their way to let viewers know a transition is about to happen. If the message hasn’t gotten out it probably won’t.
Holding back process for the greater masses because a handful of individuals are not prepared is not the best solution. And maybe instead of vouchers for yet more set top boxes, and continued government grants for PBS, maybe it is about time to subsidize cable TV for the poor and elderly.
But whatever we do, I say it is time to go forward. AT&T and Verizon won the rights for the licenses; these are companies that are doing well in a very bad economy and why should either be punished and forced to wait any longer? And I’ll go on record to ask the question that no one else seems to be asking, with economic concerns, a nearly full-blown war in the Middle East and national security worries – why exactly is the president-elect worrying about this issue? Shouldn’t this be a matter for the head of the FCC, and not the chief executive?