Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Government to Pay for Digital TV Upgrades

The San Francisco Chronicle has this piece about the scheduled switch to digital broadcasting for the free channels.

Rabbit-ear TVs about to reach end of the road

Consumers who depend on old-fashioned antennas to watch television won't miss the 2009 Super Bowl, but their analog sets will stop working soon afterward.

Analog TVs will no longer receive a signal come Feb. 19, 2009, unless users update their hardware to receive a digital signal.

Federal officials announced details Monday about how that transition will work, saying the government will help consumers buy the necessary equipment to upgrade to digital -- a converter box that attaches to the TV set.

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said it is setting aside $990 million to pay for the boxes. Each home can request up to two $40 coupons for a digital-to-analog converter box, which consumer electronics makers such as RCA and LG plan to produce. Prices for the box have not been determined, but industry and consumer groups have estimated they will run $50 to $75 each.

. . .

Starting Jan. 1, 2008, all U.S. households will be able to start requesting the coupons, said Sedmak. If the initial $990 million allocated is used up, another $510 million will be set aside to cover the cost of the coupons. Consumers must show that they do not subscribe to cable or satellite or other television services.

Of course, it's not really the end of rabbit-ears. If you rely on an antenna for your signal you'll still need it to get the digital signal even after the conversion.

I'm not sure why it's "the government's" job to ensure that people have television. That I'm not aware of, television equipment and TV access aren't part of guaranteed public assistance benefits. Why then the need to ensure that consumers are "held harmless" in the transition to digital broadcast? Seems to me there are better things to spend 1.5 billion dollars on than making sure people can see Oprah really, really clearly.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 20-year-old television set (with rabbit ears) in my living room has become a source pride for me. I had hoped that it will last another 20 years until after I get my kids through college. I do not wish to subscribe to cable.

I think the premise behind the government's plan lies in the notion that people like me should continue to have at least some free access to the television media without the need to invest in new equipment. The premise, of course, is absurd. But I'll be applying for a coupon.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Gollum said...

Can't fault you for applying for the coupons, Anon, but really, would $40 or $80 or even $100 break you? (Remember you have almost two years to save for it.)

Subsidies make sense to me when there's a legitimate public purpose (vaccines, for example) and the subsidy removes or mitigates what would otherwise be an obstacle. But I don't think either of those things is in play here, so I agree with you that the premise is absurd.

2:18 PM  

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