Apparently not content to let Congress and the incoming administration be the only ones to sow potential confusion about the DTV Transition date, Chairman Martin and Commissioner Adelstein took time over the weekend to send decidedly mixed signals to all concerned. As we have previously reported, despite the fact that, years ago, Congress set February 17, 2009, as the final Transition date, in recent days a serious case of the yips has plagued various folks, including high-ranking members of Congress as well as Team Obama. As a result, at this point it’s not clear when the Transition ball will ultimately drop into the hole.
The deadline is a statutory matter – that is, Congress expressly imposed it and the President signed it into law – so it’s up to our elected representatives to decide whether or not to change it. The FCC technically has no say in the date. Rather, the Commission must do what Congress tells them to do.
But that didn’t stop a couple of the Commissioners from doing their best to muddy the already muddied waters just a little bit more.
Interviewed at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Saturday, January 10, Martin challenged the Conventional Wisdom Du Jour – i.e., that delay in the transition is totally necessary – by suggesting that an extension of the deadline would cause confusion among viewers. His unsurprising point was that, since the TV industry has, at the insistence of the FCC, been pummeling audiences for months with the word that February 17 is THE Transition D-Day, viewers might be puzzled if, at this late date, that deadline turned out to be inoperative.
True enough, but the elected officials who have been making noises about changing the deadline probably know about that and still figure that an extension of the deadline is a good idea. So Martin’s statement of the obvious would likely have been of minimal consequence to the Proponents of Postponements (PoPs).
But Adelstein, also speaking at the Vegas show, felt compelled to stir the pot just a little more by chiming in that the DTV Transition “program has been badly mismanaged. It’s not ready for prime time.” Ouch! He bemoaned the lack of a “program in place in the field” or adequate “phone banks” to help viewers who might need assistance. Looks like he’s lining up with the PoPs.
This minor flare-up, having happened in Vegas, may just stay in Vegas. After all, the decision as to the deadline is one for Congress and the President, not the FCC. Moreover, Chairman Martin’s ability to sway anybody in Congress is already in the tank, if the less than flattering report about him issued by House Democrats last month is any indication. And while Adelstein’s Chicken Little negativism may be a bit overstated, we should all keep in mind that, once the new administration settles into the White House, Adelstein’s party will be in charge of things at the Commission. As a result, we can expect to see FCC-sponsored DTV phone banks getting beefed up starting soon after the Inauguration.
Stay tuned. We still have a month to go before February 17.