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Qualcomm resigned to DTV delay

U.S. House passes legislation delaying DTV transition to June 12, preventing Qualcomm from launching MediaFLO expansion on schedule

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With legislation that would delay the digital TV transition for three months passed in both chambers of Congress, Qualcomm appears to have accepted the fact that it won’t be able to launch its nationwide expansion of mobile TV services this month. The bill now goes to the desk of President Obama, who has not only indicated he would favor a delay but asked Congress to institute one before he took office. Qualcomm’s hopes now center on the delay not being extend beyond June.

"We are disappointed with the passage of legislation extending the DTV transition date to June 12th,” Qualcomm said in a statement. “Due to the investments we made, we were ready for a February 17th transition to provide our innovative FLO TV service nationwide immediately. We are encouraged that several Congressmen and Senators who supported the delay stated that this would be a one-time delay only. In light of the fact that the legislation, as amended and finally passed by Congress, allows TV stations to transition voluntarily between now and June 12th, we cannot determine the specific impact of the final bill's passage on our MediaFLO business."

If Obama, as expected, signs the law, Qualcomm will be forced to push back the rollout of its FLO TV service in 25 markets, including the key cities of Boston, Houston, Miami and San Francisco for three months and delay any plans for a nationwide marketing campaign. Qualcomm has said it had engineers waiting at the switches in those markets, ready to turn up its service within a few days of the original Feb. 17 deadline.

Because of interference with analog broadcasters transmitting on or in the vicinity of channel 55, Qualcomm hasn’t had access to its 700 MHz spectrum in several markets. In some cases it was able to broker deals with local broadcasters to allow some interference. In other cases, it had to work around those broadcasters, transmitting FLO TV to cover partial markets. And in the case of dozens of other cities, where a broadcaster sat right in the middle of its spectrum, Qualcomm hasn’t been able to launch at all. The DTV transition date, however, is the final deadline for analog TV, after which all broadcasters would transmit solely in digital bands, leaving 700 MHz operators free to launch their broadband services. Late last year, however, it became readily apparent that millions of consumers hadn’t yet bought converter boxes for their analog TVs that would allow them to receive the new digital broadcasts. The government program distributing $40 coupons to help consumers buy those boxes ran out of money, while millions of coupons that already had been distributed expired before they were used.

Both Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless originally opposed moving the transition date, but Verizon eventually acquiesced to a three-month delay. Qualcomm held out to the end, asking, if the federal government did set a new date, that it exempt Qualcomm in Boston, Houston, Miami and San Francisco, allowing MediaFLO to fill in the major holes in its network, if it couldn’t roll out nationally. The final legislation, however, contains no such exemptions, meaning Qualcomm will have to keep those markets dark for another three months.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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