In an interesting turn of events, the delay of the transition to digital TV -- which looked all but a certainty early this week -- has been put on hold by the U.S. House of Representatives.Today the House failed to pass the proposed bill. Due to rules surrounding the bill, it needed a two-thirds majority. According to reports, the bill failed to pass with 258 for and 168 against the measure. The bill, which has the support of President Obama, was passed by the Senate earlier this week.
This failure leaves the future of the transition date in limbo. There's a lot at stake for all involved.
For consumers, the failed bill could be viewed as a loss. Millions of Americans -- mostly the poor, the elderly and those in rural households -- are said to be unprepared for the switch. The waiting list for the coupons that are meant to defray the cost of the converter boxes stands at more than one million long. Right now, the government doesn't have enough coupons for everyone who wants/needs one.
If the bill passes, wireless companies that have paid billions of dollars for the rights to use the airwaves in question will lose gobs of money.
Qualcomm, for example, was planning to expand the markets served by its MediaFLO mobile TV network as early as Feb. 18, the day after the current switch date of Feb. 17. In fact, Qualcomm sent a letter to the House explaining what is at stake. In the letter, it explained that it is prepared to launch in 15 more markets, covering some 40 million people. MediaFLO needs this improvement in presence across the United States. Qualcomm has worked for years in anticipation of this transition, and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in preparation, according to CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs.
I agree 100% with my colleague Alex Wolfe that the delay is a bad idea. Consumers have had years to prepare for the switch. According to Wolfe's last post on the subject, 6.5 million homes will be affected (unable to capture television signals in the air) by the switch. Given the vast majority of homeowners that are prepared, is such a small number worthy of such a costly delay? I don't think so.
The bill will likely be revised and put before the Senate and the House again. For the moment, however, its future is quite cloudy.