[opendtv] Toward digital TV

  • From: Monty Solomon <monty@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: undisclosed-recipient: ;
  • Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2005 02:35:51 -0500


The Boston Globe

Toward digital TV

December 12, 2005

CONGRESS IS finally getting serious about converting the nation to 
digital television. It needs to set a firm deadline, provide adequate 
support so people can still use older sets, and compel manufacturers 
and retailers to inform consumers of the switch.

Conventional analog television signals take up broadcasting space 
that could be better used for emergency and mobile services. Digital 
signals are more compact and allow improvements in picture quality. 
High-definition television, which offers the most detailed picture to 
consumers, is a digital product.

But TV purchasers have been slow to make the switch, and a 
congressionally imposed deadline of Dec. 31, 2006, is a joke. The 
lawmakers acted more realistically when they passed competing bills 
last month as part of budget reconciliation measures. The Senate 
would put off the deadline until April 7, 2009. The House would set 
the date at Dec. 31, 2008. Either is fine as long as it is firm.

After the deadline, broadcasters would no longer send a conventional 
signal over the air. Cable or satellite providers would convert the 
signal to analog for any customer with an old set. Those people who 
want to pick up over-the-air transmissions in analog would have to 
buy a converter box costing perhaps $50.

To compensate, the government should provide subsidies for converter 
boxes. The Senate would allocate up to $3 billion, and the House less 
than $1 billion, both from the sale of surplus broadcast frequencies. 
As digital TV prices fall, the sets are becoming increasingly 
popular. A $3 billion subsidy may not be necessary as many people 
abandon analog. But the House figure seems low. The higher amount 
should prevail.

Because high-definition television is such a big improvement, every 
set ought to receive all the high-definition signals available in an 
area. A section of the House bill would allow some cable operators to 
offer a degraded signal for a few channels. This consumer-unfriendly 
provision should be rejected.

Even as Congress proceeds to set a firm deadline for conversion to 
digital, many consumers are still being offered analog sets for sale 
despite their looming obsolescence. The House would compel 
manufacturers and retailers to put warning stickers on boxes and in 
stores. This provision may not survive because of a Senate rule that 
only items having to do with spending can be included in a budget 
bill. If so, Congress should pass it quickly as separate legislation.

The Federal Communications Commission ordered last month that all 
sets sold in the country as of March 1, 2007, will be able to receive 
digital signals. Analog television, a 1940s technology, is giving way 
to better uses of valuable broadcast space.

=A9 Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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