Going Digital Will Leave Poor, Elderly Without TV Signal
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The U.S. government is forcing its citizens to go digital. That’s right, forcing. On Feb. 17, 2009, all existing televisions receiving channels through analog signals will shut down because all television stations will switch to digital signals. This means that the estimated 21 million homes now getting signals over the air will have to buy an analog to digital converter box or buy a new digital television.

There are 13 million households with analog TVs. That’s about 8O million sets, with most of them belonging to the elderly and low-income households. But that’s not to say that students won’t be affected. Many students, like myself, either have some hand-me-down fossil, can’t afford cable, or simply don’t want it. But even those who don’t want it won’t be able to get basic TV channels on an analog TV.

But why go digital? On its Web site, the Federal Communications Commission claims that digital television “broadcast technology is more flexible and efficient than … analog.” As an example, the FCC cites the possibilities presented by what it calls “multicasting,” a method that will allow digital television to provide both high-definition and standard-definition signals simultaneously. Finally, the conversion to digital will supposedly free up parts of the broadcast system to be used for public services like police and fire departments and emergency rescue services.

It seems to me, however, that all these reasons vaguely conceal what is really happening. The digital conversion is, ultimately, a ploy by the government to curry favor with big business. In this case, it’s the television industry. This isn’t really surprising. Governments have always had a need to please interest groups, and big business wields a big stick and doesn’t speak particularly softly.

The prospect of selling millions of new digital televisions has to put a smile on the industry’s collective face. Not to mention the reported 61 percent of those receiving over-the-air signal who say they have no idea this is happening. Many of these consumers may be people over the age of 65, who are the nation’s second largest TV viewing community. Others may be families with young children. At 40 hours per week, children are the watch TV more than any other age group.

Because of this, Feb. 17 will be a field day for the repair industry, which will only be able to tell people to get a converter box or buy a new set. And you know they will still charge for service.

Those standing to make all this money will get exactly that. But it seems as though they may be the only ones to benefit. First of all, what does a low-income family care about higher picture quality when they have to buy a $40 to $50 digital converter box for every television in their house? These converters will allow people to get reception, but will not provide the higher picture quality of digital television. So, basically, people will have to bend over backwards just to keep their old TV. Either that or buy a new one.

The government is trying to help subsidize people by giving them coupons for up to two converters. They will be available from Jan. 1, 2008 through March 31, 2009 and will probably work through rebates. But, honestly, who do you know that only has two televisions? People shouldn’t have to do this at all.

So, while big business can stay happy with itself, everybody else has to bleed his or her own resources to make this happen. And while certain public resources may be helpful, it has yet to be seen if the government will follow though on this promise. America may want to stay on top of the technological ladder, but it shouldn’t be forced upon consumers. The transition to digital media is already happening and people don’t need The Man to tell them when to take the plunge.

Maybe this is the chance of a lifetime. Maybe people should all just give up television. We’d all be better off without Flavor Flav anyway.

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