Editorial: Candle-Lighting Time

We don't know about you, but we're ready for TV stations to pull the plug on analog and move on to the world of digital, where all the action is. That will happen June 12, we are assured by the FCC and Congress.

As FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell and Consumer Electronics Association chief Gary Shapiro have been saying at every opportunity, there is going to be some dislocation and confusion, but nothing that isn't both manageable and understandable given the scope of the change. The mop-up operation will take a while.

But with only a fraction of the populace not ready (Nielsen says approximately 3.1 million homes are not), and the government spending millions on outreach and help centers and call centers and demonstrations and speeches and forums and (fill in the blank), it should be enough to prevent hordes of disaffected viewers from storming the Capitol with pitchforks and torches.

Broadcasters have done yeoman work prepping their stations, and their viewers, for the change. Many have turned on a dime to change plans and assume additional logistical headaches—and wallet-aches—to accommodate the government's failure to recognize and fix a simple accounting problem with coupon subsidy funds. Solving it in a timely fashion might have prevented the DTV transition-date move mere days before the Feb. 17 plug-pull.

But that's now water (or a digital stream) under the bridge.

Though the government took extra time between Feb. 17 and June 12 to help everyone else get prepared, it was apparently not sufficient to get a new team in place to oversee the transition. An acting chairman, Michael Copps, still helmed the FCC at presstime, with Julius Genachowski's nomination hearing yet to be scheduled.

Then there was the curious case of Larry Strickling, the presumptive head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. His nomination hearing went off without a hitch, but the Senate's failure to move on Strickling's nomination had many in Washington shaking their heads.

But there is also an argument to be made for not changing horses in mid-digital stream. Copps has gotten high marks for his handling of the tough job handed him, and NTIA, given more time and resources, has cleared out the converter-box coupon backlog.

In short, some people won't get the message and others will need more help. But there is only so much the government can do once it decides to remake its entire broadcast communications system—or, in this case, had the decision thrust upon it by a technology that threatened to bypass broadcasters if they did not adopt it.

So, with a shout-out to Philo Farnsworth, Vladimir Zworykin and the others who pioneered analog TV, it's time to light this candle.