DTV delay will cause confusion, cost millions

Five years to the day before 9/11, first responders told us they needed vastly more communications capacity in order to cope with a large emergency. Instead, we gave them silence, and the absence of reliable communications was held responsible for many deaths inside the World Trade Center. More years have passed since 9/11, and they’re still waiting for our help.

The scheduled Feb. 17 switch from analog to digital television broadcasting will give first responders the functioning equipment and broadcast frequencies they need. In fact, help was on the way for three years before the Obama transition team panicked and told Congress to delay. Last week, Congress tried to accommodate the White House, but the Senate’s DTV-delay bill failed to gain sufficient support to skirt normal rules in the House.

Now, all of us have work to do. Contrary to what you have heard, the digital TV transition program is neither stuck nor broke, and there’s no need for further delay. In fact, a delay could actually cause fewer people to be ready when their stations transition to digital.

Yesterday, acting FCC Commission Michael Copps told me and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. that 61 percent of TV stations – 1,089 – could switch to a digital signal before June 12 without causing interference to other stations. The other 39 percent – 700 or so stations – may be able to do so.

What the FCC is saying is that despite the Democrats’ insistence in pushing back the transition date to ease consumer confusion, in fact, many stations can transition earlier. Given that the delay will cost stations millions, not to mention the fact that they are ready to transition, why wouldn’t they? How exactly does that help consumers? It reinforces what Cliff and I have been saying for weeks – that a delay will hurt first responders, add confusion and cost millions.

The worst part about the Democrats’ bill is that it doesn’t actually do anything to get converter box coupons into the hands of consumers. It merely delays the transition. The money for the coupons comes from the “stimulus” bill, to the tune of $650 million dollars for both coupons and consumer education. This is no way to reduce consumer confusion.

Republicans have a better alternative, yet the Democrats refuse to even debate our amendment on the House floor. The alternative, recommended by the Commerce Department under President Bush, still exists in the form of pending legislation to authorize $250 million for more converter box coupons. This simple action would empty the waiting list, and we even anticipate getting most of the money back because we know from experience that many of the coupons will go unused.

Nobody quite understands why the Democrats are so determined to fix something that isn’t broken, but the more you look at what they’re doing, the more you understand that the repair job makes things worse instead of better. Someone said it’s like getting Roto-Rooter to come out and clog your kitchen sink.