President Obama, please do not sign the bill to extend the deadline for the DTV switch. I think it is ill advised and unnecessary. The public is ready, and it will cost the taxpayers, broadcasters, and others too much in the long run.
The Public is Ready
The broadcasters, the government and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have all been airing PSA's (Public Service Announcements) for the last year, and there have been a multitude of media reports in all the usual outlets.
A recent poll commissioned by the NAB shows that, "82 percent of over-the-air television households have taken steps to prepare for the transition," and, "Awareness of the DTV transition nationally remains sky high with 97 percent of all households ... aware that TV is switching to digital." I think the important take away is that a high percentage of people know of the switch, and most of those have taken action to deal with it.
The Nielsen Co. survey in January said, "a little more than 4.1 percent of households in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota television markets are completely unready for the government-mandated switch to digital."
Leslie Marx, Duke Professor and former FCC chief economist, told Wired.com last month, "No matter when we have this transition, there are going to be people who are not ready for it. I think the best thing for our country is just to go ahead with the transition, and then work hard to get everybody up to speed."
I'm sorry, but if people have not heeded the warnings by now, they either do not watch enough TV for this to be an issue, or they just don't care. Will waiting four more months make a significant difference to these people?
The Cost of Delay
According to the Poynter Institute, the cost of delaying the switch away from analog can be as high as $10,000 per month for the average broadcaster.
While large broadcasters in urban areas can probably afford such an unexpected expense more easily, small and rural broadcasters would find this a difficult pill to swallow.
What about PBS? In recent years, the federal government, under the George W. Bush administration, cut funding to PBS so much that many PBS affiliates found it difficult to continue offering the quality programming to which the viewers were accustomed. This switch to digital has already cost PBS affiliates dearly, and a delay of four months is estimated to cost them an additional $22 million, according to Paula Kruger, President and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System.
There is also the issue of the cost to companies that have "purchased" the spectrum that is to be vacated by the broadcasters. According to Wired.com, "The futility issue is only one of the problems with delay. Companies that won auctions for wireless spectrum that is to be freed up on Feb. 17, like AT&T and Verizon, could reasonably seek compensation for not getting the property they were to acquire that day. The Delay bill doesn't address this issue at all.
'Companies have paid $19 billion for the right to use that spectrum, and the wireless communication that could be offered on that spectrum is valuable,' said Marx. 'If I were one of the companies that purchased spectrum licenses in the FCC's 700-MHz auction, I'd sure be asking the government what kind of compensation I was going to be receiving for, in some sense, the government not providing the good as advertised that I purchased at the auction.'"
The Cost to the Economy/taxpayer
While I fully support President Obama and his concerns for the people that would be negatively affected by the switch, I am more concerned of the effect that this delay would have on both the economic crisis we are facing, as well as the taxpayer in general.
We (the taxpayers) have already been tapped for $700 million for the first bailout, countless millions for the other bailouts (the automakers, AIG, etc.) not included in TARP, and who knows what else. This has created a culture in the US of companies asking for assistance/bailout by the government (us, the taxpayers). If we create exceptional costs to broadcasters through this delay, why would they not expect the government to help them out?
In addition, in all the discussion over the stimulus package and the necessity to create jobs, this bill is putting a tighter crunch on the broadcasters, who are already facing higher costs (like most businesses are), and lower advertising revenues (because companies are unable/unwilling to spend at their previous levels). I suspect that the added costs to the broadcasters could very well result in them trimming staff and creating more unemployment.