Are You Ready for Some Digital TV?

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2005; 10:18 AM

No news outlet makes a stronger case for how dramatic the change to digital television will be than the Austin American-Statesman:

"On Super Bowl Sunday in 2009, millions of football-loving Americans with old-fashioned analog televisions might lean over to adjust their sets' rabbit-ear antennas and see nothing but static."

You got a problem with that? Tough. Because 2009 would be a reprieve -- it could be happening sooner.

At a Senate Commerce committee hearing Tuesday, Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) suggested extending the time frame for making analog TVs officially obsolete. National Association of Broadcasters chief Edward Fritts told Stevens that his members are on board.

Right now, the analog signals are supposed to cease on Dec. 31, 2006, or whenever 85 percent of the nation's households can receive digital signals. But things haven't progressed that smoothly for a number of reasons, the history of which is written about at length in many news articles today.

As News.com reported, the Federal Communications Commission wants next March to be the deadline for all TVs with 25- to 36-inch screens to contain digital tuners. (This excludes Casa de Random Access . What about you?)

VCRs and DVD sets would have to play ball by 2007. By July 2007, all TVs 13 inches and larger would have to use tuners, the Los Angeles Times reported.

But millions of us still might be caught flat-footed, as several senators said at the hearing. Nevada's John Ensign (R) worries that the government might have to subsidize the cost of the converter boxes, which could run from $35 to $50. News.com carried this quote: "I believe we can have some kind of a program, though I'm not sure what it will look like, for those low-income people who say they need a subsidy."

The L.A. Times chimed in with this: "Several lawmakers support using a portion of the auction proceeds [from a sale of unused analog frequencies] to fund a subsidy. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) has talked about a $500 million pot, limiting the subsidy to the poor. Others, including Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), contend that every affected household should be compensated."

Now, let me tell you something about most of the news coverage of the digital television conversion. The squabbles between TV makers, broadcasters, Congress, the FCC, consumer groups and countless other parties can be hard to follow. It tends to yield news stories that report on every skirmish rather than focusing on the big picture. Know what "carriage" is, for example? In the unlikely event that you don't and really want to find out, see the Dow Jones story.

The good thing about today's crop of stories is that they highlight in usually simple terms the things that you will need to know about the upcoming changeover. Most importantly, they answer the big question: "Why on earth are we being forced to do this?"

According to the broadcasters and technology folks, we demand better picture quality. We're not going to take this analog crap another minute! Oh, and once our analog TV sets aren't hogging that portion of the radio spectrum, the government can make millions of dollars by auctioning it off to telecom companies, who in turn will use the bandwidth to sell us things that will make them millions in turn.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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