Congress Tells TV Stations, "Stop!"

In a policy turnaround so crazy it's sure to give someone whiplash, Congress has now passed a ruling barring TV stations from turning off their analog transmitters on Tuesday (Feb. 17, 2009). These would be the very same TV stations who were told to spend $10-20 million retooling their plants to be ready for the DTV transition no later than Feb. 17, 2009. These would be the very same TV stations who are mostly running both analog and DTV transmitters (and paying the electrical bill for both), to stay in compliance with the previous ruling.

It seems that Congress is afraid that tens or even dozens of people, having ignored the flurry of PSAs, newspaper articles and billboards announcing the transition, will be without TV. So now, after years of delays, a botched coupon program to subsidize the $50 converter boxes and a PR nightmare, they are under the assumption (delusion?) that another four months will fix the problems. Uh, pardon my sarcasm there.

Another part of the ruling also bars the new owners of the 700 Mhz spectrum from actually using that spectrum until June 12, 2009. The odd part is that public safety channels can go live starting Feb. 17. Go figure. Here is a chart showing the 700 Mhz spectrum, TV channels and who owns what, including the public safety bands.

What does this mean for churches? Well, oddly enough, it's good news (mostly). It means users of wireless mics--churches, schools, theaters, etc.--essentially have another 4 months to migrate out of the 700 Mhz spectrum and come up with a plan to frequency coordinate around the new DTV landscape. If, however, you have mics in the public safety bands, I'd get out of them now. Not next week, or next month, now.

Given the government's complete mis-handling of this transition, I fully expect another delay come June. I would not, however, advice churches to wait. Get on this is coming eventually. Most of the wireless mic manufacturers rebate programs wrap up in the spring, so take advantage of them now. Talk to your leadership; determine the need; develop some budgets; and put a plan in motion to be ready for the switch whenever it happens. You really don't want to have to explain to the pastor why you suddenly received an ambulance call during his closing prayer, do you?