[opendtv] OpinionJournal Article: The Digital Homestead Act

  • From: "John Willkie via OpinionJournal.com" <johnwillkie@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 23 Dec 2005 14:41:49 -0500


Your friend John Willkie thought you might be interested in this article[3]
from OpinionJournal[4] and forwarded it to you. 

The Digital Homestead Act

The government offers to subsidize your TV watching.

America's mandated conversion to all-digital television broadcasting drew a
step closer Wednesday, when the Senate agreed with the House on how and when
to do it. According to plan, the transition will take effect on Feb. 17,
2009. That's when TV stations that now transmit analog signals--around since
the 1940s--must switch to digital broadcasting.

But wait, there's more! What we like to call the Digital Homestead Act will
also launch the most mockable government handout program since the cheese
giveaways of the Reagan era. Of course, things have changed since the street
distribution of surplus cheddar (caused by dairy subsidies) a
quarter-centuryago. The reasoning behind the latest scheme is a lot dumber.
Essentially, Congress proposes to spend up to $1.5 billion handing out $40
vouchers to millions of Americans who don't need the money--so that they can
keep using obsolete technology.

But let's back up a bit. Most people won't notice a change in 2009. They
willalready have digital TVs (all new sets sold after mid-2007 must be
digital), or they will still be subscribing to cable or satellite services
that can send digital signals even to analog TVs.


Yet Congress has latched onto the factoid that some 15% of households don't
have cable or satellite. They still receive signals on analog TVs the old
free-to-air way, using an antenna to get local network stations that
broadcast in analog. This setup won't work when all broadcasts go digital.

Here's where the absurdities start piling up. The bipartisan party line is
that many of these antenna folks are elderly ladies in nursing homes or
people too poor to pay for digital TVs or basic cable. And since they need
television in order to keep abreast of their democratic rights, e.g., to see
political ads, Congress says that they must be given financial aid so they
can rush out and buy a set-top converter box that will let them see the
newfangled signals like the real digital homesteads do.

Never mind that an estimated price of a converter box by 2009--$50--is the
cost of a few cigarette packs in New York or perhaps a bag of organic
produceand some free-range chickens. And don't bother pointing out that
UncleSam doesn't reimburse people when their TVs break, or when they must
payfor cable because they can't receive a clear local signal. This is
different, subsidy advocates insist. "This is the government making your TV
go black and then paying only part of the costs for some of the people to
make it work again," Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union told the New York

Fancy that: The government taking something away and not giving it all back.
Ever heard of taxes? Another canard is the notion, put forth by at least one
gushing editorialist, that the vouchers are "free money," since they will be
financed through an auction of old analog frequencies. Sounds like
taxpayer-financed "free" medical care. Or, to look at the voucher program
another way, if the government threw $1.5 billion from helicopters instead,
does anyone doubt that it would eventually find reasons to claw back an


One universally acknowledged truth--even in Congress--is that the people who
gobble up many of those vouchers will not be needy. Millions of households
with satellite dishes and new big-screen TVs also have at least one old
analog set lying around, and each family is entitled to two $40 vouchers.

As we learned when many of the non-poor joined long queues for Reagan
cheese,Americans would stand in line for marmoset pelts if they were labeled
"free." To encourage such grabbiness in 2009, Congress has earmarked $5
million for voucher advertising. Mark your calendars.

--- Links ---
   1 http://www.wsj.com/?jopinemaowsj
   2 http://opinionjournal.com/
   3 http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110007715
   4 http://opinionjournal.com
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