August 23, 2007
Moving Forward in Preparing for Digital Deadline

Looks like we've made one step forward in the planned digital deadline, the switch from analog broadcasting signals to digital television broadcasting in February 2009. That comes with the recent naming of IBM as the outsourced group in control of the coupon program the federal government will institute to help pay for converter boxes which will translate digital signals to be read by the analog televisions.

According to Ira Teinowitz's recent report on the decision, the National Telecommunications Information Administration awarded "IBM a contract worth up to $120 million. IBM will design a Web site, phone center and fulfillment procedures to track the issuing and redemption of the $40 coupons the government is offering to households without cable."

The converter boxes are expected to cost a maximum of $70, while the coupons will be for $40 off.

Last month, I wrote about Prof. Nolan Bowie's Boston Globe article on the TV gap. Nolan asks interesting questions, particularly about the disposal of analog television sets once the move to digital is complete, another important question in the equation. At the time, I wrote, "The plan for analog television signals to be a think of the past by February 2009 is quite understandable when one understands the potential benefits for freeing the spectrum for more efficient uses, but the way in which the public has been informed, and plans have been made for such a digital deadline, has been...well...something less than efficient."

Rep. John Dingell, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had been pretty open in his disdain about how pretty much everyone has handled the digital deadline issue so far, but this move at least represents a step forward. I wrote:

Of course, this only comes after a wide variety of folks have criticized the government and the industry for not doing enough to inform Americans about such a big change being well under two years away. In response, the FCC has finally laid out a number of ideas, including public service announcements, notices that come with new television sets, and inserts in cable bills. However, although a digital deadline has been discussed for some time, a great number of Americans don't seem to know about the digital deadline.

It'll take time to see whether the decision to go with IBM was a great choice, but praise has been widespread to see a step forward being made and real efforts to educate the public and move forward with the preparation for a deadline that looms ever closer. Hopefully, we will start to see the results of the FCC's plans and the IBM deal in the coming months.