Monday, January 26, 2009

Digital TV conversion may be delayed

The Senate has passed a bill to delay the switch to digital TV by four months. I just saw the article on Here's a link if you haven't read it.

That doesn't mean that this is official. The House would still need to pass it and Obama would need to sign off. Don't get excited yet.
Delaying the upcoming DTV switch is the right thing to do," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., author of the bill to push back the deadline.
Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal policy at Consumers Union, argues that millions of Americans — particularly low-income and elderly viewers — will pay the price because "the government has failed to deliver the converter boxes these people deserve just to keep watching free, over-the-air broadcast signals."

When Congress made the decision to require the switch from analog to digital signals in 2005, where were we? How did they pass this through without anyone taking notice? It was a blatant act of service on behalf of commercial wireless services (translation - the people who suck money out of your wallets). Those "valuable chunks of wireless spectrum" are being yanked away from the elderly and low income viewers who, isolated from society due to infirmity or circumstance, rely on broadcast TV for news, entertainment, and a sense of belonging to a world from which they have become increasingly marginalized.

My bet is that Congress was sold a bill of goods. The article also states that some of those "valuable chunks of wireless spectrum" would be used for interoperable emergency-response networks. Tack on the "public welfare" perspective and you can sell the idea! It almost makes all the billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers are coughing up to subsidize the converter box coupon fiasco worthwhile, right? What exactly is an interoperable emergency-response network? How much bandwidth would it REALLY require? In the meantime, our hard-earned money is being used to pay for the converter boxes and for all the administrative costs that go along with the switch.

Who are the largest beneficiaries of this ill-conceived plan? The wireless companies - yup, those folks to whom you are probably paying $60 a month for a $40 wireless phone plan (plus taxes and fees, of course). Don't forget the companies that make and sell those lovely converter boxes. They're making a profit, you better believe it.

True, some "public safety agencies waiting for the airwaves that will be vacated" will be inconvenienced. And true, a delay would "create added costs for television stations that would have to continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals.

A delay until June would be beneficial IF the time is well spent. The coupon distribution process needs to be monitored. Reselling the coupons should be prevented (yes, profiteers are thinking of ways to make something from nothing - why are you surprised?). And the marginalized populations that need those coupons the most should be targeted to ensure that those needs are served.