A Small Step Towards Reclaiming Spectrum

from the slowly,-but-surely dept

There's been a lot of talk among politicians about finally getting a real deadline in place to force the switch from analog TV to digital TV, but little actual movement for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, that's changing. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved a bill that would set the cutoff date as April 7, 2009, though, they voted down an amendment that would push it up to 2007. What's scary is that the politicians who voted this down made it clear that the no vote was simply an issue of money. They believe if they hold out on auctioning off the spectrum they reclaim until 2009, they'll raise more money for the government's coffers. Of course, the delay would also mean two years where that useful spectrum cannot be used for emergency wireless services or other kinds of commercial wireless services that could help boost the overall economy. It's a shortsighted decision -- and, so far, we've seen plenty of foot dragging on moving forward with the transition. Setting an early date, and sticking to it, would be a huge step forward. Of course, the other reason politicians are pushing it back is they don't want to upset constituents with the idea that their televisions won't work the day after the switch. There's a simple solution to this: allocate money to pay for TV upgrades. The amount needed would be tiny compared to what the government would get back in auction revenue and society would get back in terms of benefits from having that valuable wasted spectrum put to good use.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Just one guy, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 2:42am

    Forced upgrade?

    Come on, you can't just force everybody to upgrade their old TV set for getting the same services they already have been having so far...

    Even if it costed just a fraction of the price of the new set, like $50 because the rest is paid by the government, there would still be millions of people simply not interested. And even if that were a completely free proposition (you go to the local supermarket with your old TV and receive back a new one) there would still be millions who would not or could not bother: old people, little used sets in week-end cabins in the wood, or in little used guest rooms... the list of situations is endless, where people would just not bother with switching and would end up with a perfectly working and perfectly useless device.

    And no, I don't believe it would cost little.

    Any new service must be introduces without disrupting the old ones and clearly providing new and useful services.


     

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    Happymellon, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 4:31am

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    The biggest problem is the way this is being viewed in the US. They are providing the same service just over a different medium (Well maybe HD but very few people are buying into it as it is its still too expensive for your average Joe). Looking abroad at other peoples implementation of Digital TV shows how oppotunities are being missed.
    Take Englands terrestrial DTV offering Freeview, one simple box purchase (a basic settop box is available for 50 GBP, expect $50 for the US equivalent) and you also get many new channels not just the basic analogue 5. The only drawback is the SD resolution, but anyone who has seen it will agree that it's many times better than analogue.
    If the US Government took a similar approach and make DTV both SD and HD (maybe make the SD spec ED), simplified the boardcast laws to increase the amount of national channels and set a real deadline they could have a chance of make a real product. Although some blame also falls into the manufacturers lap and I haven't seen a settop box that I would call reasonably priced for converting an analogue TV to a DTV if its only SD.
    Without any obvious product benifit to average joe of course there is no interest.

     

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    lisa, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 5:07am

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    I think one of the problems selling digital TV to the public is it sounds as complex as computers. HD, SD, 1080i, 720p, 16:9, and so on, when all they want to do is watch Andy Griffith.

    There are also an awful lot of stores where you walk in and they've got a bunch of squat 4:3 people waddling around in a 16:9 full screen.

    Though I can easily see the difference between digital and my 13 inch TV-VCR, it's hard to justify spending more money just so I can hear the news and weather while getting ready to go to work.

     

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    Toe Nail, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 6:24am

    What's the deal with the government pushing HD

    Why in the world is the government involved in this push toward HDTV? This has nothing to do with the public good. I can see a mandatory push toward more fuel efficient cars, but to force everyone to spend a lot of money just to continue watching TV is ludicrous!

    90 - 95% of the population couldn't care less if their TV picture were sharper. I love watching TV and DVDs, but the picture on my existing analog TV is just beautiful. Sure Digital and HDTV look better (if you have a good source signal), but I'm not willing to pay thousands of dollars to upgrade all of the TVs in my house just so I can see the pores on Kelly Rippa's nose.

     

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    Mike (profile), Oct 21st, 2005 @ 6:50am

    Re: What's the deal with the government pushing HD

    Um. Read again.

    (1) They're not pushing towards HDTV, but *digital* TV, which is a different thing.

    (2) It has nothing to do with picture quality and everything to do with spectrum. The TV broadcasters own a ridiculous amount of the available spectrum out there -- and they were given all of it for free. That spectrum could be used for many, many more important things -- such as better emergency communications systems. It would help a tremendous amount to have that spectrum back.

    It has nothing to do with "sharpter images".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 7:17am

    Re: What's the deal with the government pushing HD

    But we're not in a vaccuum. Is the public good of getting back that spectrum worth all of the pain and confusion this is causing?

    Also remember that the people most affected by the dropping of the analog over the air signal are also the ones that can't afford another device just to watch TV. If the government wants this to actually happen anytime soon, they'll have to subsidise converters for people. If they don't, that 2009 number will be just as fleeting as all of the other ones so far.

     

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    Mike (profile), Oct 21st, 2005 @ 8:01am

    Re: What's the deal with the government pushing HD

    Yes. The public good is tremendous from getting this spectrum back. The "pain and confusion" is actually quite minimal. At this point the change really impacts only about 13% of Americans. That doesn't lessen the issue for them, but it's much easier to focus on solving the issue for that small group.

    And, the plan is absolutely to subsidize the converters. The government is planning to spend somewhere around $3 billion to do so.

    That $3 billion is absolutely worthwhile, given the value of the spectrum and the fact that it's being absolutely wasted right now.

     

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    The Other Mike, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 8:46am

    Re: What's the deal with the government pushing HD

    Ok I am an IT geek but never cared about T.V. beyond the fact that mine works. What exactly is the difference between digital TV and HDTV? It is my understanding that they are the same thing, and since I dropped $500 not much more than a year ago for a (new) TV that doesn't seem to like HDTV, tell me why this is something I can support.

     

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    Mike (profile), Oct 21st, 2005 @ 9:10am

    Re: What's the deal with the government pushing HD

    Right now, you can receive "free" over the air TV via the airwaves. That's analog TV and needs an analog receiver. Digital TV is the same thing, just using digital technology. It's for receiving TV over the air (as opposed to through cable or satellite).

    HDTV vs SDTV is just the definition of the picture and has nothing to do with how the signal is received. So, you can have digital TV without having HDTV (or without cable or satellite). You *could* also have analog HDTV (Japan did it), but in the US, HDTV should all be digital.

    So, assuming you got an HDTV and that you have cable or satellite, then this whole thing really doesn't impact you. It only impacts the folks who still watch TV over the air, getting the few channels that are available like that using rabbit ear antennas and such.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 9:12am

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    I have to agree. With all the pain it might cause people like me, the networks would probably loose ratings aand money. It doesn't make since why anyone would want to force it.

    It has been my observation that sooner or later people will upgrade naturally, those who don't want to eventually end up dying anyway taking care of those problems.

    The fact is, how do we know that after everyone is forced to switch, that something new won't come out in two years after that?! I'm tired of having to upgrade whatever I buy 6mos.-1yr. after purchase. So far, it has been voluntary, but forcing a switch is just wrong

     

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  11.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 21st, 2005 @ 9:41am

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    Hmm. No, if you've bought a TV recently, it probably already has a digital receiver, so it shouldn't be a problem. If you have cable or satellite, it shouldn't be a problem.

    There are some very serious issues at stake. Basically, the TV networks are holding onto a ton of very very very useful spectrum that should be put to much better use. Forcing the switch is very important. This isn't about "something new" or trying to get people to something better or different. It's about trying to get that spectrum back and put it to better use.

     

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  12.  
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    Major Dork, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    People are acting like television is a god-given right penned into the constitution. It is not. There is no forced upgrade. No one is being compelled to upgrade with a gun pointed at their head. If you don't want to upgrade, don't. Just don't blame us when you get no reception.
    The government has been saying that this is coming since at least 1990. If you can't save up $50 over 5 years for a converter box, you've got some major financial issues and maybe should stop watching TV and get a better job.
    I'm tired of the government coddling to the laziest and most ignorant. Our teachers are forced to teach to the dumbest in the class. Our cellular carriers are forced to keep analog service because some stupid person can afford $XX a month for service but can't afford the same amount for a new digital phone. And it looks like our government is caving again on the bandwidth issue.
    No wonder our country is falling behind. Our government has lost its balls. It won't make the hard decision to make the people do what is best for them.

     

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  13.  
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    Happymellon, Oct 21st, 2005 @ 5:49pm

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    The biggest problem is that HDTV and DTV is being confused. $50 should not be a problem for most proble your not talking about the thousands that was mentioned before to upgrade all the TVs in your house. The biggest problem is that The two terms are being confused, yes if you bought a new TV within the past year it should be DTV complient, but in the US it probably won't be. Take a look at Walmart and see if there are any resonable priced DTV's. None? some digital LCD TVs but they are nowhere near the price of a bog standard analogue Cathod-ray tube. Companies are not selling a product that will stand the test of time, you should not be buying new equipment every 5 years, but you should be able to buy a small DTV to stick in the kids room for the same price as an analogue. I refer to the UK again as thats where I'm originally from and analogue TV is being phased out. Looking at Walmart tonight the only digital capable TVs are 50" and the set top boxes that should cost $50 becuase they dont do that much, DTV signal to NTSC, don't exist. Some HDTV tuners but the cheapest is nearly $200 but at least has Standard Definition RCA jacks as well as the HD jacks so if you upgrade in the future it can do both jobs. But $200??? They are killing the market because thats what people expect DTV costs.

     

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  14.  
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    Pussy, Oct 22nd, 2005 @ 2:14am

    Re: Forced upgrade?



    Major Dork has it right on the nose.

    You have no right to watch TV.

    Lets cut out the hyperbole, switching a TV is not causing anyone any “pain”

    If you cannot afford to switch, perhaps you should be watching less TV?

    The reason why the US government has no balls to make the people do what is in their best interests, is because we have a democracy, and because people do not want what is best for them, they want what is easiest for them RIGHT NOW, and the people get to decide. The politician who forces something better on the people, is the politician who is looking for a job.

     

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  15.  
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    Tommy, Oct 23rd, 2005 @ 11:33pm

    Re: Forced upgrade?

    I believe that several of you are wrong. People don't want to switch because they don't want what is better for them nore because they don't want to give up the money to switch, most people, like me, don't realize what is going on. How many times have you seen it on the news? Not much. People don't know what the benefits are, and being one of those people, why would I want to switch to something I know nothing about. Is it my fault that I don't know, no. If it is so important to me then maybe my gov't should let me know through comercials or something exactly why I need this. When I visit best buy, circuit city, frys, walmart, the rant and rave is you need to upgrade because the government will cut off your signal soon and this has better picture quaility anyways. so before anyone goes cutting down the American people, maybe you should speak from the average American's point of view. People do not know the benefit. If you say spectrum, digital, sd, hd,ed, they do not know what these are. If you say hd is high definition, that tells them nothing. tell them the resolution, well now you might as well tell them what resolution is because all they ever cared is that they can turn their tv on. As far as it not being their right to watch tv, yes it is their right to be able to. They paid for the television, they watched the comercial that payed for the programming, and they are the ones who went to walmart to buy the tv they saw on the tv commercial that convinced walmart to advertise on tv in the first place. Think before you critize.

     

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  16.  
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    Tommy, Oct 23rd, 2005 @ 11:34pm

    No Subject Given

    I believe that several of you are wrong. People don't want to switch because they don't want what is better for them nore because they don't want to give up the money to switch, most people, like me, don't realize what is going on. How many times have you seen it on the news? Not much. People don't know what the benefits are, and being one of those people, why would I want to switch to something I know nothing about. Is it my fault that I don't know, no. If it is so important to me then maybe my gov't should let me know through comercials or something exactly why I need this. When I visit best buy, circuit city, frys, walmart, the rant and rave is you need to upgrade because the government will cut off your signal soon and this has better picture quaility anyways. so before anyone goes cutting down the American people, maybe you should speak from the average American's point of view. People do not know the benefit. If you say spectrum, digital, sd, hd,ed, they do not know what these are. If you say hd is high definition, that tells them nothing. tell them the resolution, well now you might as well tell them what resolution is because all they ever cared is that they can turn their tv on. As far as it not being their right to watch tv, yes it is their right to be able to. They paid for the television, they watched the comercial that payed for the programming, and they are the ones who went to walmart to buy the tv they saw on the tv commercial that convinced walmart to advertise on tv in the first place. Think before you critize

     

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