The federal government, in a major flipping of the bird to sick poor kids across the country, kicked off its $1 billion digital TV campaign Tuesday by offering $40 coupons for digital converter boxes. The boxes will be necessary for anyone currently receiving over-the-air analog signals once the federally mandated digital switchover occurs on Feb. 17, 2009. This means if you're still watching Leno every night for free instead of paying for cable or satellite like a sucker, then the government has two words for you: "Tough luck."
Yes, come Feb. 18, 2009, if you don't have one of these boxes shoved securely between your rooftop antennae and your TV, then the only sound you'll hear over the snowy static will be your child crying, "Where'd Elmo go, Mommy?" Cable and satellite subscribers have less to worry about: their respective service providers will be handling the transition for them. But that still leaves millions of Americans -- a large percentage of them elderly and lower-income -- out in the cold to fend for their own entertainment and informational livelihoods. And, as Phillip Swann of TVPredictions.com points out, who is the least likely to be informed about the coming digital switch and the steps necessary to survive it? Exactly: elderly and lower-income Americans.
The government says it has that contingency covered, because part of its $1 billion plan -- that's billion with a "B," people -- is to provide not only the coupons but public service announcements about how to handle the digital revolution. That's sure to help a lot of people -- until they realize that those $40 coupons don't cover the entire cost of a $60-$70 digital converter. To assist with that, the government is letting each U.S. household sign up for two, count 'em two, coupons, which sounds good until you realize that every TV you own will need its own converter box. So if your house has two TVs, and you can only get $80 in assistance from Uncle Sam, you'll still need to pay up to $60 if you want all those TVs to work come next year.
And, hey, all you cable/satellite subscribers: Do you still have a couple sets, maybe in the basement or your kids' room, that aren't hooked up, and that still rely on over-the-air signals? Well, guess what? You get to shell out some big bucks, too! Whoever said TV couldn't bring people together!
The question I have is, who asked for this digital switch in the first place? Have you ever heard anyone who uses rabbit-ears on their TV say, "You know, I enjoy getting my TV shows for free, but I sure wish the resolution of Drew Carey's fat head could be sharper." Yet the government decided years ago to surge ahead with this preemptive digital strike, and just the other day the FCC announced they would allow broadcasters to start phasing out their analog signals even sooner than the 2009 deadline, according to this article by Information Week. It seems the big winners here will be not only the government, which is expecting to make billions by auctioning off the soon-to-be empty analog frequencies, but to wireless phone companies who are clamoring to snag some more airspace. (Read more about that here at Uncommon Thought.)
TVPrediction's Swann believes that confusion brought on by the converter boxes will cause the government to rethink its digital switch timetable. Even if that were the case, it would require Congress to act quickly and cooperatively on something, and when's the last time that happened? So if you know anyone who will need a converter who is still in the dark, do them a favor and make sure they're up to date. It may be expensive and unfair, it may benefit big business at the expense of your grandmother, and it may be just one more way for our government to waste money, but, hey, that digital TV picture sure is pretty.
To get your coupons, or for more information, check out the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Web site.
-- Adam Reinhard, email@example.com
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