- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

The federal government seems to have its hands in everything right down to dictating the type of television set Americans shall have in their homes. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a diktat on Thursday mandating that, by 2007, all over-the-air TV signals be converted from the current analog type to digital, and that all new TV sets be equipped with digital tuners to receive digital transmissions. Less than three years from now (July 2005), all new TV sets with 36-inch or larger screens will be required to have digital tuners. Congress passed the enabling legislation in 1997, but the impact and cost will soon be upon us.
Those who do not have cable or satellite TV hookups (15 percent to 20 percent of American households, or about 81 million TV sets) will be out of luck after the switchover. Free TV will be a thing of the past, because old-fashioned TVs even if just a few years old and perfectly serviceable will not be able to pick up the new digital signal. Unless they agree to a monthly cable or satellite TV subscription, or buy a special digital TV tuner, they will be unable to receive over-the-air television signals. And everyone who purchases a new TV after the new edicts go into effect, beginning in 2005, will have to pay about $100 more per TV for the digital technology.
As of today, only about 1 percent of American households have TVs with digital reception capability. And many homes probably most have second or third TVs not hooked up to a cable box. That means within the next four years, almost all of us will either have to buy an expensive digital tuner or throw away a perfectly good TV perhaps several and go out and buy new ones. Since cable or satellite service will become all-but-unavoidable at least, if you want anything like decent reception or the new "features" being touted by digital TV proponents plan on tacking on that monthly service fee to the family budget.
Such accelerated obsolesence is unprecedented. The closest parallel was the phase-out of the air-conditioning refrigerant Freon (R-12) in the mid-1990s; but at least that was done for supposed public-health reasons the chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) in Freon were thought to harm the Earth's protective ozone layer.
So why the strong-arm push to ditch analog in favor of digital, and why is the federal government even involved? Money. By shoving television signals off the analog spectrum, Unce Sam inherits the newly freed-up "space" and can use it for other purposes, including selling it for profit. Meanwhile, the broadcasters (cable and satellite companies especially) get a government-cajoled increase in their business.
Why should Americans have to pay what amounts to yet another tax in order to provide the government (and private companies) yet another benefit? It is being sold to the American people as a great boon because, among other things, they'll be able to receive High Definition TV (HDTV) programs, which have a sharper picture and be able to do things like buy products they see advertised in commercials merely by clicking a button on the remote control. But stripped of the propaganda, the fact is every American will soon be effectively required to pay a fee in order to continue watching over-the-airwaves television.
If the federal government intends to profit from the forcible taking of the analog spectrum for its own purposes, why should taxpayers have to foot the bill? Perhaps the money the government makes from the sale of the analog spectrum can be used to compensate American TV viewers for the cost of converting to digital.
If this hastily forced conversion to digital is inevitable, then at least a digital-TV tax deduction should be added to the policy.

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