Digital TV

To Be? Or Not?

Were you surprised when Pres. Elect Obama suggested that the long planned conversion to digital television be postponed last week?  I was.

The Obama administration stole the tech spotlight from new product releases at the big Consumer Electronics Show yesterday by urging Congress to temporarily pull the plug on the transition to digital television by moving back the looming Feb. 17 date.

We’ve had the ability and the need to convert for decades now; that’s a given.  But such things are political, of course, and do not happen without winners and losers.  Megen McArdle explains, and links to Julian Sanchez.  In short, some companies, Verizon in particular, are in a position to take advantage of the bandwidth that will be freed up after the conversion takes place.  Others, are not.

It’s not clear whether Verizon would really be able to make good on its plans to begin deploying its LTE network by the end of 2009. Most analysts believe that a relatively short postponement, on the order of three months, would have little effect on 4G deployment–provided it did not set the stage for further delays, as Verizon clearly fears it might. Such a delay might also avoid a spate of homeowners sliding off icy rooftops as they struggle to install new antennas.

But a longer, more disruptive delay might provide some breathing room for Verizon competitor Clearwire. That company is seeking to build market share for its own WiMAX network, a joint venture with Sprint, before LTE is ready for prime time. Clearwire has boasted that it remains years ahead of the competition, but while WiMAX networks in Portland and Baltimore are already up and running, scheduled expansions to other cities have been delayed until late 2009, even as Verizon has bumped up its own schedule. The company’s stock has now been in free-fall for months, and several major backers recently announced they would take major write-downs on their investments in Clearwire.

Yeah?  So?  Some people call that “capitalism”, right?

Enter Gerry Salemme. A telecom industry veteran; former lobbyist; and Clearwire executive vice president for strategy, policy, and external affairs, Salemme has also been a generous Obama supporter. Early in the primary season, Salemme gave the maximum $2,300 to Obama for America, and then in August threw in another $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that accepts large contributions and carves them up between the party and candidate. (An apparent typo in the OVF’s FEC filing credits this donation to “R. Gerard Salemine.” OpenSecrets shows the cash as split into $5,400 for the Democratic National Committee’s Services Corporation and two contributions of $2,300 to Barack Obama, which on face would seem to exceed Salemme’s cap for the primary and general combined.) Once the race to the White House was won, Salemme scrounged another $5,000 for the transition effort. the maximum $2,300 to Obama for America, and then in August

Oh.  I think I spotted the loser this time.  It’s you and me.

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