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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Preeminent Goal of Congress?

This CRS paper on the Digital TV changeover has this interesting paragraph:
The preeminent goal for Congress is ensuring that American households are prepared for the February 17, 2009 DTV transition deadline, thereby minimizing a scenario where television sets across the nation "go dark." At issue is whether the federal government’s current programs and reliance on private sector stakeholders will lead to a successful digital transition with a minimum amount of disruption to American TV households or, alternatively, whether additional legislative measures are warranted.
The pre-eminent goal? What a load of garbage. Congress doesn't give one hoot about ensuring we are all switched over to digital compatible television. What they do care about is the potential for social unrest when the televisions "go dark." I only half joke that people in this country won't take to the streets in revolution when their guns are confiscated, or when their money and time is confiscated, or when their taxes are dramatically increased, but they might grab the pitchforks and torches and start some action if they can't watch NCIS and Oprah.

This is why I have been predicting for months that the switchover would be delayed - there are simply too many people in this country that do not pay attention (for whatever reason) to what's happening around them. Thus, the estimated 5 million or so people that are not ready basically forced Congress to go into delay mode. Unfortunately, Congress passing a law to "delay" doesn't solve the problem - it only kicks the problem down the road for a few months. Gee, that's not surprising.

The whole problem with a drop dead date for a digital roll over is that with 310 million people in this country there is a tremendous coordination problem that the government simply cannot overcome by simply passing a law. I recently bought a new television and went digital. It is definitely an improvement, but I would not want to pay extra for the HD programming (although we get a number of HD channels for free through our digital cable subscription). One claim is that the digital transition would have occurred naturally, much like the transition from 8-track to cassette to CD to MP3, and therefore the legally mandated transition was not necessary. The authorities claim that they need the bandwidth so that they can broadcast emergency messages during the next (bigger?) terrorist attack or natural disaster and therefore they couldn't wait for the natural transition to 100% digital. I am skeptical of the government's claim - it sounds like a full employment act for HDTV and digital converter manufacturers.

The fact that there are tv commercials reminding people to prepare for the rollover and there were still millions of people unaware says volumes about our population, especially in the arena of voting.

If Congress is going to continue to delay until a critical mass of people have digital televisions, then, not surprisingly, the entire Congressional effort to get us all to switch was a tremendous waste of resources.

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