OpinionJournal [IMG][IMG] Your friend John Willkie thought you might be interested in this article from OpinionJournal and forwarded it to you. REVIEW & OUTLOOK 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. [IMG] 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 Times. 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 equalamount? [IMG] 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 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways: - Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at FreeLists.org - By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word unsubscribe in the subject line.