Regulators…Mount Up

It is hard to imagine a worse start for the new administration. With direction from President Obama, Congress in its infinite wisdom has chosen to completely unravel more than a year’s worth of work to transition the U.S. from analog to an all digital TV broadcast. Their excuse is that consumers were unprepared and confused, however the new solution is so wrought with problems that confusion will be the least or our worries.

On Feb. 17, some full-power broadcast television stations in the United States may stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. The remaining stations may stop broadcasting analog sometime between March 14 and June 12.From DTV.gov

Thanks government, this definitely fixes the problem. The FCC has the unenviable job of determining, which stations are allowed to change over before June 12. This means instead of all stations transitioning at one time, some stations in a region will be in analog while others could be broadcasting only in digital. One wonders if this could be “confusing” for consumers.

The decision also ties into the bloated “Stimulus Bill” with $650 million allocated to the digital-converter box coupon program. This is more than half a billion to fund more coupons and marketing for the new date. For a short time last year I had a hand in the millions spent on marketing to educate the public about the transition. By moving the date back, all that taxpayer money for marketing was essentially wasted. Moreover there are significant negative economic consequences for broadcasters and other tech companies that had been preparing for the February transition. Many broadcasters will now be required to support analog for an additional four months and companies who were preparing to utilize the the newly available spectrum for new technologies will need to stand idle while the recession continues in full force. Moving the date is a colossal mistake.

Perhaps the new administration should look at technology directives that actually benefit consumers instead of fouling up a program that was in place long before it came to power. One example is the growing trend of ISPs implementing data caps and metered pricing. A recent GigaOM post describes how Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, Charter and Frontier Communications are all either beginning to test or have rolled out capped internet access to some or all of their customers. As I have written in the past, this will hinder innovation, raise prices and place a barrier for wide adoption of webTV. President Obama has the ability to eradicate this business practice, it remains to be seen whether he will have the foresight to take on this issue or whether network neutrality’s double edged sword will be realized. Some weeks back I stated my desire to put past feelings aside and become part of the solution for change. I am still waiting for action by my government to earn my commitment to it.

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