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Digital TV Transition; Another Government Enterprise

After years of planning and billions of dollars spent on new equipment, including those $50.00 digital TV converter boxes, the government is currently trying to figure out whether not actually wants to follow through on the timetable it originally proposed for the conversion.

As Art Smith over at the Conservative Reader asks about the effort to delay the switch; [1]

Why is this bill a problem?

Well, we understand and accept the fact that, ahem, 4% of households have not yet switched to the digital format (most simply needing a $50 converter box that the government has been providing a $40 coupon for now for over a year now.  Evidently, part of the issue is the sudden delay in sending out coupons.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

Republicans say the extra money isn’t necessary because the Commerce Department has only spent half of the $1.5 billion allotted for coupon program. They say the waiting list could be eliminated more easily by waiving an accounting rule barring Commerce from sending new coupons before older, unused ones have expired.

But what I don’t get is this: we have been knocking into people’s heads now for YEARS that this was coming.  It didn’t sneak up on us, just on the few that evidently don’t watch TV anyhow, because if they did, they’d already know about this and have done what was needed by now!

The reluctance to face the reality of that deadline approaching, brings to mind the spectacle of watching the entirety of New Orleans sat on its backside for four days whilst Katrina headed directly for them.  Then despite being warned to get themselves out of the area, the residents complained bitterly that the White House wasn’t moving fast enough to help them .  Interestingly enough, this was by and large the same group of people who manage to get 2 million in and out of Washington DC under freezing conditions, and subzero wind chills, that could not in four days get themselves out of New Orleans.  One can only assume that the reluctance to make the switch was a conscious choice.

Seems to me, that if you wanted to get spending going, it would be relatively simple to do; simply stay on schedule make the switch, enforce those stragglers into buying the receivers with the new standard.

It should be pointed out, that there are many television stations around the country who have already made the switch for various reasons.  Among them, aging analog equipment which was no longer up to the drill.  A few stations had their analog equipment destroyed by fire and storm and whatnot.Warneton RTB transmitters [2]As an example, Scott Fybush at Northeeast Radio Watch [3] said last week:

“Rhode Island PBS,” aka WSBE-TV, has gone digital-only – but not by choice. The station’s analog channel 36 transmitter on Neuticonacanut Hill in Johnston – the last one ever delivered from RCA, we’re told – suffered “major catastrophic failure” on January 15, and rather than attempting an expensive repair to keep the analog signal on the air for just a few more weeks, WSBE officials decided to shut it down for good.

The week before, Scott listed a few others doing the same.

Meanwhile up in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market, another analog TV signal will go dark today. WOLF-TV (Channel 56) follows sister station WSWB (Channel 38) in going digital-only, one of the increasing number of stations making the digital flip regardless of whether Congress decides to extend the analog-shutoff deadline beyond Feb. 17.

All of these stations decided that it wasn’t worth the amount of money that would be invested to keep their analog signals on the air for another month and a half to two months, when the transmitters in the vast majority of cases would end up being a outright replaced.  A television transmitter of any vintage, after all, is not an inexpensive proposition. Even assuming the upfront costs were zero, you’re still looking at the majority of analog transmitters costing on the order of  $10,000.00 to $20,000.00 a month to maintain broadcast service.

The problems surrounding any government actions are exemplified  with this whole digital TV transition .  It is impossible, given the government’s meddling in the process, while constantly rethinking its position, to maintain good business continuity.  The large, messy, and expensive (And politically motivated) argument over AM stereo a few years ago, and the constant changes in direction in that whole scenario, should’ve been the clue of what we were going to be dealing with in this case. Similarly, the FCC’s botched handling of IBOC based digital broadcast radio on AM.  Given the political leanings of the current administration, this entire situation shows no sign of being cured .

To make matters even more comical, we are about to enter the realm once again of the “fairness doctrine” . That, too, is political motivation in full force.The results will be equally disastrous for both consumers of broadcast media, and its producers.

The detachment from reality that the government has managed to show us in these cases, would be enough to create envy in any fantasy author. And yet we keep giving these miocromanagers the power to do this to us, each time.

Why?