The Botched Digital TV Conversion
By: Tom Purcell
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Well, that didn't go very well.
I speak of the switchover from analog television to digital that was supposed to occur on Feb. 17.
Congress mandated the switchover in 2005 with good reason. Digital
broadcasting offers superior picture resolution, multiple programming
options, and it frees up the airwaves for use by emergency responders.
1,800 television stations invested lots of dough to build digital
operations. Many were ready to switch over well before Feb 17. But
there was a problem. Millions of television viewers weren't ready.
who still watch old analog tubes -- people who receive their TV signal
through rabbit-ear antennas, for instance -- needed to do one of three
things to prepare:
They could have bought a newfangled digital television.
They could have kept their old tube and subscribed to a cable or satellite service.
they could have kept their old tube and antenna and purchased a digital
converter box for $40 to $80 (antennas in some areas may not receive
digital signals as well as they did analog, but that's the breaks).
concept was simple enough. It was so simple, in fact, that the Congress
decided to complicate it. The Wall Street Journal explained how in a
fine editorial last week.
First, the Congress established the TV
Converter Box Coupon Program. With a budget of nearly $1.4 billion, the
program promised each U.S. household two $40 coupons to purchase two
digital converter boxes.
But by November of last year, the
Commerce Department told the Congress the program was about to run out
of dough. Worse, half of the coupons that had been issued weren't yet
redeemed -- and were about to expire.
Congress did what it does best: nothing.
January, after many coupons had expired, it was clear that millions of
American households would not be prepared for the digital switchover.
Sure, they could have bought converter boxes with their own money. But
why spend your own dough when the government is eager to kick in?
In the face of the growing crisis, the Congress did what it does even better: blame Bush.
February, just days before the long-planned switchover, the government
was desperately behind processing applications for converter-box
coupons -- it faced a backlog of more than 4 million. It would take
months to catch up.
So the Congress did what it does best of
all: stall and spend more dough. It delayed the digital switchover date
to June 12. Then it slipped $650 million into the "stimulus" bill to
fund even more converter-box coupons.
In any event, despite four
years of government planning -- despite numerous public service
announcements, newspaper articles, mailers, how-to Web sites, community
advocacy programs and millions in taxpayer dough -- approximately 5.8
million households were still not ready for the digital switchover.
I have a hunch things would have gone more smoothly if the government had done nothing at all.
bet people would have figured out what to do on their own, just as my
father had to figure out numerous technical innovations over the years.
sought assistance from the guy at the electronics store. He talked to
neighbors. He read the newspaper. He read instructions. As he mastered
each concept, he helped others.
He learned how to install an
antenna on the chimney and rig it up to three televisions on three
separate floors. He spent hours kneeling in front of the tube in search
of the perfect picture (all my family ever got to watch was our dad's
He made it through the new stereo system, the Kimball
organ and the VCR just as millions of Americans did: without one
Too many politicians view the American
public as hapless and clueless. But where the digital switchover is
concerned, it's the Congress and the government that are hapless and
As the Journal speculates, do we really want these birds running our health care?
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