Government meddling in digital television costs billionsWritten by Maggie Thurber | Toledo Free Press Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have a digital television? Are you one of the people with an analog set who still use antennae — rabbit ears, we used to call them? Are you worried about what will happen at midnight on Feb. 17, 2009? Are you afraid you won’t be able to get a signal and will, therefore, be without — gasp! — television?
I’ve seen the commercials — the older woman is so concerned about this switch from analog to digital signal because she’s just not ready to purchase a new TV. But she calls her cable company recently who assures her that she’s ok. I’ve also seen the crawls — but they’re at the top of the screen, not the bottom, so as to not be confused with breaking news or alerts.
I certainly haven’t missed the ads telling us where to get our coupon for a box that will allow our old sets to process the new signals. And if you have an analog TV and somehow missed all of this, you learned recently when they did a test that your set won’t work.
Congress passed a law that requires all full-power television stations in the United States to start broadcasting with a digital signal as of Feb. 17. Digital provides a clearer picture and more channels. Congress claimed the reason for the law was to free up airwaves for emergency responders.
But with the new law, there are going to be people with old TVs who won’t be able to receive the new signal. So Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided that they must offer a $40 coupon so you can purchase a converter box. Because there are so many households in the United States that have more than one television set, you can get two of these coupons.
But not everyone knows what Congress does, so they had to inform the public of the change — hence the commercials. And they had to find a way to get the coupons out to people, so they created a Web site (www.dtv2009.gov). And they had to help people find the converter boxes — hence the Web listing of retailers.
Originally, Congress authorized $5 million to be used for DTV educational purposes and $1.5 million for the DTV coupon program. But just recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a part of the U.S. Commerce Department charged with administering the program, diverted an extra $5 million to different community programs, including a
$2.7 million grant to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and $1.6 million to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF).
LCCREF will set up DTV assistance centers in seven “at risk” cities to help communities of color, people who rely on programming in languages other than English, low-income working families, older Americans and people with disabilities, who they claim will be most affected.
The Area Agencies on Aging says that “without proper education and hands-on assistance throughout the conversion to digital, 8 million older adults could find their televisions go dark on Feb. 17.” Their program aims to help a subset of older Americans who would “suffer real consequences — isolation from society, anxiety, mental or physical decline as a result” of losing their analog signal.
And the cost is only $11.5 million — so far — but that doesn’t include the costs to the television stations or other government expenditures. The federal General Accounting Office reports the commitment is for $1.4 billion for educational purposes, but they’re concerned that it won’t cover the costs of all the coupons. As of June, only about 9 percent of households had applied and they estimate that about 35 percent of households will be impacted. The original bill estimated government subsidies would total around $3 billion.
According to published reports, TV station owners were hesitant to begin digital broadcasts until homes had sets that could receive them. Manufacturers were hesitant to produce digital televisions until there were digital programs to receive. So Congress forced the issue, interfering in the market — and now they’re spending billions of our tax dollars to be sure that 35 percent of the households in the United States can have a working television.
Your tax dollars hard at work.
Former Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber blogs at http://thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com/.