I Want My DTV

February 17, 2009, came and went without anyone freaking out because their TV channels mysteriously went away. That was the day that TV broadcasters in the United States had originally been mandated to switch to digital over-the-air signals from the analog signals they’ve been using for over 50 years. That date was pushed out to June 12 by Congress, and as best as I can tell, they did that primarily because it turns out that U.S. citizens are really good at procrastinating.

I know what you’re thinking: “Jeff, this whole digital TV thing totally snuck up on everyone. It was so frakking sneaky that it could have slit our throats in our sleep! We’re lucky to still be alive!”

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Indeed you are lucky, my little TV-loving friends, because it’s been next to impossible to get ready for the big digital transition with only about 12 years warning. Here’s how the timeline played out:

In 1996, Congress agreed that a switch from analog to digital over-the-air TV made sense because TV stations could offer higher quality images, run multiple programs at the same time on a single channel, and it would free up all kinds of radio frequencies for public safety. They set the target cut off date at December 31, 2006, but left it to a future Congress to actually mandate the switchover date. Eventually, Congress set the official cut off date at the end of the day on February 16, 2009.

For good measure, the government also decided that TVs manufactured after February 2007 had to support digital TV signals, and also set up a subsidy program to help people that didn’t have digital-compatible TVs and couldn’t afford the $60-ish price tag for a converter box buy what they need. They even set up a Web site with all of the gory details.

Now let’s fast forward to late January, 2009. TV stations have been hard at work preparing for the mandated switch over, and many have been simulcasting in analog and digital for some time. Congress, however, is all freaked out that no one is ready for the change that’s only a couple of weeks away, so they pass legislation that pushed the transition date out to June 12.

This is where it gets confusing for consumers because some full-power stations could still drop their analog broadcasts on February 17, and then other stations can do the same after March 14. That means people that procrastinated will still lose their favorite TV stations, but now they won’t know when. It also means that stations that weren’t included in the February switch over group have to budget in the substantial expense of maintaining their analog transmission system — and in the end, the same people that procrastinated for over 12 years will probably still be unprepared when June 12 rolls around.

Now that Congress has established that it’s capable of legislating for procrastination, I’m thinking this is a prime opportunity to fix some other problems we have. We’ll start with moving the beginning of the work week back to Wednesday so that students can finish their weekend homework, and business types can finish up their Monday presentations before heading in to work. Gift-giving holidays can be moved back a few days, too, so that there’s time to go out and buy presents.

So the DTV transition has been delayed, people won’t know when the stations they watch are cutting over to only digital signals, and TV stations get to shoulder unexpected expenses. Sweet.

And why blog about the digital TV several days after February 17 instead of right after Congress moved the date? I just wanted to see how this procrastination thing would work out for me, too.

Crap. There goes my Saturday afternoon.

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