When it comes to inevitabilities, the February 17, 2009 DTV transition deadline has, in the minds of many, been right up there with death and taxes since Congress wrote that date into law three years ago. But as we said back in 2005 (when it looked like April 9, 2009, was a front-runner), we wouldn’t be betting the farm that the date might not be on the move again before the actual transition happens. And sure enough, we’re starting to hear rumblings that February 17 might have to step aside for some later date – to be determined.

The Washington Post is reporting (in its January 8, 2009 edition) that Consumers Union has urged delay in the transition because of concern that the General Public (a/k/a the Voting Public, a beast politicians prefer not to rile) may not be ready for it. While normally that kind of suggestion might trigger a big ho-hum among jaded observers accustomed to such PR moves, there’s more here: the Post also reports that a spokesperson for Rep. Edward Markey responded that “with the date looming, moving the date back certainly warrants further discussion and may be a wise choice”. Since Markey is the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the smart money figures that the prospects for some extension of the deadline may be looking up. Meanwhile, WashingtonPost.com is also reporting that Team Obama has jumped on the bandwagon and is urging Congress to hit the brakes on the transition. That should get the odds-makers’ attention.

Other factors influencing the handicapping include: (1) the recent announcement by NTIA that it’s already maxed out in the DTV converter coupon program; and (2) the rush-rush enactment of the Analog Nightlight Act; and (3) the equally rush-rush adoption by the FCC of the replacement translator program. This all may not rise to the level of Panic In The Streets, but it certainly reflects Spreading Perspiration Stains.

An extension at this point would be somewhat embarrassing – the transition process has been in the works for years, after all, so why aren’t we able to wrap it up on schedule, for crying out loud – but it would not be the end of the world. The television industry and the Media Bureau’s staff have all done their jobs and, despite the enormity of the task, they have all managed to get their end of the process teed up reasonably well for a February 17 transition. The Bureau staff and the industry are to be heartily congratulated for getting us to where we are.

To the extent that any problem may exist, it arises because of uncertainty about the extent of the public’s readiness for the change. If the politicians decide that a month or two more might improve that readiness, where’s the harm? Plus, that would give the newly-minted Congress a chance to crow loudly about how they stepped in at the last minute to save the day for all the Little People who had somehow miraculously managed to miss the governmentally-mandated Shock-and-Awe “education” campaign staged over the last year or so.  Given the relentlessness of that campaign — designed to clue EVERYBODY into the transition — one could wonder what more might be done during an extension that has not already been done.  But we’ll leave that to our friends on Capitol Hill to decide.

In the meantime, stay tuned (using both analog and digital receivers, just to be on the safe side).