Should The Government Subsidize Your Extra TV?

from the the-poor-cable-subscribers dept

One of the sticking points in the plan to free up wireless spectrum currently in use by analog TV broadcasts is the fate of those remaining people that cling to their analog TVs, since those TVs will cease to work once the spectrum switches over. Congress has approved plans to subsidize the cost of digital-to-analog converters, which, while expensive, seems well worth it for the spectrum that it will free up. Ultimately, it only affects a small number of people, so that limits the cost of the subsidy. But now Congress is pressuring the Commerce Department to expand the program to include cable TV subscribers that also happen to have an extra analog TV. This seems a bit silly. It’s one thing to argue that people who don’t buy cable shouldn’t be precluded from getting television, and that people who don’t have cable (perhaps for economic reasons) may not be able to afford the cost of buying a converter themselves. But if you already get cable, then you’re not losing out on anything, save the right to have a TV on your kitchen counter, or in your basement. And if they really want to keep those TVs, there’s nothing stopping them from buying a box themselves. As we’ve mentioned earlier, a big part of this issue is that politicians are loathe to do anything that might inconvenience their constituents; so even though everyone would benefit from a smooth spectrum transition, no politician wants to be responsible for messing with people’s second (and third) TVs.

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Comments on “Should The Government Subsidize Your Extra TV?”

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majb says:

Re: Yes

Just where do you think the government GETS all the money to do all these nice little things for people? I’m tired of working my fanny off to get by myself and then have to take care people who make bad choices in their lives or spend all their money on fun and toys and cable TV or cell phones that I can’t fit into my budget–if I want to save any for my retirement. One coupon per household for elderly and none if they subscribe to cable or satellite, etc.

Rickler says:

When people start seeing they can get all of their main channels in digital over the air (ATSC) without any quality lose. Just maybe people will realize they don’t need to fork out $40-60/month just to get those few extra channels. I can only hope this happens and channels like discovery, history, scifi, etc start broadcasting their channel in hidef over the air in ATSC.

Overcast says:

Good idea!!

Medical Care, Shelter, Abused People, Drug Addiction, Murder, Rape…

All those issues really pale in comparison to making sure the various media companies and Hollywood get advertising dollars.

What a splendid idea!!

Just makes me curious – who’s the bigger idiot – the people proposing this law or the people who will vote to re-elect them.

I don’t have cable, I just watch DVD’s here and there. TV really has lost it’s appeal to me over the years. What, pay 100 bucks a month to be spammed by the advertisements on TV?

You know… LOL, 100 bucks a month buys a fair number of used DVD’s…

Overcast says:

Re: Re: Re:

Medical Care, Shelter, Abused People, Drug Addiction, Murder, Rape…

For the money spent on the bogus war in Iraq, you could fix all those things AND buy a 47″ plasma HDTV for everyone in America.

Actually, I’d have to disagree. Government rarely, if ever fixes anything at all…

The Government makes more drug laws all the time and the problem just gets worse. We can all see how well ‘social’ medicine worked in Cuba for Mr. Castro…

Cable monopoly victim says:

Re: $100 a month?

I have a coaxial wire coming into my house to deliver a signal. I do NOT subscribe to digital or have a cable box as both of my televisions can handle the signal just fine. For this, I pay just under $60.00 per month. Add in taxes and it’s over $60. If it weren’t for all the trees around my house, I would have gone satellite a long time ago. If it weren’t for the valley I’m in, I would have ditched both of them and gone with an antenna… 🙁

majb says:

Re: $100 a month?

Some of You get cheap cable then –many of us do not cheapest Comcast offer here is $53 just for the service, plus the little extra charges you get. There are 7 local TV stations included I believe plus a few cable ones–couldn’t find a definite list on internet. Our area apprently gives subscribers far fewer channels than many other areas also. I read many complaints about service and quality. They seem to have a generally lousy reputation. I was told they are requiring purchase of the basic plan plus higher one which apparently add about $22 more to get HD, of which there are very few channels right now offered.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: I think they should

I can’t get cable where I live. If they are going to take away my analog, replacing it would be fair. Eventually, I will buy a digital TV, but why should I be forced to? So I’ll take their free converter & hope it works at least as well as the analog.

I think you’re missing the point. They absolutely *are* going to subsidize it for those without cable.

The question is whether they should also subsidize it for the folks who have cable, but who also have an extra tv in the basement that isn’t connected to cable.

Rick says:

A lot of us spend $100 a month for cable. I pay $130 a month for my cable/broadband bundle, which includes:

Basic Cable – Channels 2-13
Expanded Cable – Channels 14-~77
Digital Cable – Channels ~78-~299 PPV Channels 400-450 Music Channels 500-580
On-Demand – Channels 100-140
Showtime – Channels 340-356 ($14.95/mo)
HD Channels – 1400-1800 (apx 35 channels total) ($4.95/mo)
Roadrunner (7mb broadband)
1 Digital Box

It’s a ripoff, I know – but I don’t have a choice in cable companies.

On the ‘richer’ side of the metro there are 2 competing cable companies, each with their own fiber lines. They pay $20-$30 a month less for cable than I do. While they had initially ‘promised’ to build out the whole metro in order to get their franchises, they mysteriously ran out of money for upgrades after they finished the upscale neghborhoods.

Back to the discussion, my bill includes $15.45/mo for the HD-DVR and $10.45/mo for my digital box. Without my digital box I could not watch anything past channel 77 on my ‘older’ TV.

Jeff says:

TV? What is that?

Isn’t this medium dead yet?

I have no idea where you guys fit time in to watch TV anyway. There is just too much information on the internet to turn on a TV. Each time I watch TV I actually feel cheated of reality, unchallenged and fed a bunch of ‘pre-chewed’ content.

With National Geographic and Discovery Channel as the exceptions, there really isn’t anything worth the cost of a TV in my opinion. But perhaps you guys watch Disabled Housewives and think this content is worth your taxes.

DG Lewis (profile) says:

Cable isn't OTA

It would have been helpful if you linked to an article describing exactly what “Congress” is pressuring the Commerce Department to do. I found it at (I hope the Techdirt comments form accepts URLs).

That said, it is a bit silly. How many people who subscribe to cable have a second (third, fourth, fifth) TV in their house that’s receiving over-the-air signals? It’s far more likely that they’ve got their second, third, or fourth TV hooked up to their cable, but without a cable box – so all they get is the analog channels. But that’s analog cable, not analog OTA. And all the Digital TV Transition Act should be dealing with is preserving service for customers who currently receive analog OTA signals as the signals are discontinued with the transition to digital OTA, not helping customers or cable companies reclaim cable spectrum by moving channels to digital.

winnabago says:

Re: Cable isn't OTA

Analog cable is unregulated by anyone, including the FCC, so the impending ‘switch’ in 2009 only affects OTA broadcasts. This is a NON-issue, because analog cable can continue to be broadcast if the cable company wishes. They could also choose to change their spectrum use to all digital, meaning more channels, but they should pick up the cost of the tuner box then.

They are just trying to pass along costs to us.

J says:

Money grab via stupid Digital Box

I just want them to get ride of that stuipd lame ass Digital Box. I can get 50+ analog signal right to my TV and then my TV tunes the correct desired channel – I can can even spilt that signal to as many TVs as I want (need).
Why on earth do you need a Digital Box for each TV?
Why not just have the Digital Box at the main house in cable conjuntion box and convert all singles at once. That way when I do picture in Picture or side by side picture on my TV I do not need TWO Digital Box.
I am sure the first company that offers a single Digital Box to analog signal to allow me to run 10 TV off one Digital Box will make millions.

I really really really hate the idea of a Digital Box – it seems to be entire waste of a product. The TV already has a built in tuner and other features that far surpass features of the cheapest Digital Box the cable company’s use.

Charlie says:

Re: Money grab via stupid Digital Box

There have recently been a few integrated products to convert large swaths of digital channels to analog at the house (to allow the cable co’s to stop simulcasting and free bandwidth for interactive and internet services), but until now the equipment to mass convert all the channels at once hasn’t existed for a reasonable price.

Analog cable is also greatly limited as to the number of channels, so this couldn’t replace the digital boxes.

Some digital sets use cable cards to achieve the effect, use the TV and its integrated tuner for digital cable, but the cable companies are starting to screw that up with switched digital video.

DG Lewis (profile) says:

Re: Money grab via stupid Digital Box

The problem is that a digital set top box isn’t a tuner. Or rather, it incorporates a tuner – a cheap, analog circuit that picks out the appropriate 6 MHz channel from the 860 MHz of signals on the coax – but it also incorporates a decoder and demultiplexer to pull out one of 6-8 MPEG2 streams from that 6 MHz channel and convert it into a signal that your TV can recognize. The tuner costs a few cents. The MPEG2 decoder, probably around $20-$25 – for each stream (channel) that you want to decode.

You want to pull 20 streams (10 TVs, each with PIP) off a box? You need 20 MPEG2 decoders. That’s $400-$500. Plus you need to control it at the box, not just tune the TV, because it’s the box that picks the channel and stream to decode.

You want to mass-decode every digital channel and put them all on your home cable? No can do – not enough bandwidth on the cable. The whole reason cable companies are going to digital is because they can get more channels into the existing bandwidth. Cable plant can handle up to 860 MHz, and the cable in your house is the same. So you could get 135 channels or so – now you’ve got to configure the box in some way to pick which of the 500 digital channels it’s going to decode.

Oh, and it’ll cost around $2500-$3000 to build. Add in margin, and you’re looking at a product that will sell for upwards of $3500. How many people will buy that instead of a couple extra digital cable boxes?

DalGoda says:

Plenty To See

I pay a pretty penny for my cable, and I have lots and lots of channels. It’s not just NG & Discovery that are worth watching. BBCa has some wonderful entertainment, CC with the Daily Show, BSG on SF. Just pick and choose what you want. And if you are one of those “enlightened” people who “don’t watch TV” or have “never owned a set”, good for you. Just remember that it doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. I get so tired of that snobish mentality.

Oh, onto the actual point. The subsidies are a good idea. Lots of people have several TVs that are perfectly good with the exception of being analog. Now my cable company doesn’t charge extra per set, but they do for extra converters. So all the TVs in the house have cable, but only a couple have the full digital package. The rest stop at channel 73. I know I wouldn’t want to shell out to pay for 5 extra converter boxes. However, I was under the impression that if your TV was hooked to cable, you wouldn’t need a set top box.

James says:

I use my second TV

I have one TV at my house connected to cable. We got the cable because with the price of Broadband was the same if we got basic cable. Luckily we get Discovery Channel with basic, which is the only cable station I bother with.

However, I also have a computer next to my computer in the office, a small one in the kitchen that my mom and dad use while eating breakfast, and one more in the living room that is used when my dad plays pool and is watching something interesting on TV.

There is no reason why I SHOULDN’T be compensated for the loss of functionality of these TVs.

Devil's Advocate says:

I’m with James on this one. The issue isn’t why you use your second TV without a cable hookup (maybe because old TVs are easy to find and cheap to buy but 5$ a month per box adds up to a lot of money). The issue is that if the government wants its spectrum back (which I suspect it does – badly) it has to compensate the people who will no longer be able to use their current TVs. If I can’t afford more cable hookups but won a second TV on a lottery the government can’t tell me it’s my problem for being so lucky.
Bt”w, I’m not a US citizen nor do I own a TV receiving an OTA signal.

James Weil says:


I certainly was not asked if I wanted to switch to digital. I was not given a choice. The government has made that choice for me without my consent. Not only that, I am only able to voice my consent or objection to decisions makers of this edict my proxy – i.e. my Congressional Representative. I have no direct power to vote these people (FCC) i in or out of office. I can only express my opinion on this matter through protest and voting my Congressman out of office after the fact.

Additionally when I purchased my TV’s no one told me that the current tuner installed in my set might become obsolete and incompatible within the realistic life-span of the set. There was no tag or notice indicating this. When I purchased my sets I had no reason not to assume that the same broadcast system that had been in place for the last 65 years would continue to be compatible with my set for its life-span.

So under these circumstances, given that the decision makers, decided that this conversion is worth the cost and inconvenience to citizens in the long run, it seems reasonable to me that the switch be made with as little personal cost and inconvenience as possible to individuals. So it seems fair to me that the organization that the decision makers represent (U.S. Government) should be compensating and minimizing the costs and inconvenience that will result from their decisions. It is the responsible thing to do.

If in fact the decision makers are wrong, and the issues with the new system overshadow the shortcomings of the old system then we know who to blame.. If it is so flawed in mass implementation that they are forced to go back to the old system, even if it is only temporary, then I am in the enviable position of not tossing $100’s or $1000’s of dollars of my money into the trash.

DG Lewis (profile) says:

Re: Responsibility

Sure. If you’re not a cable subscriber, you’ll get a coupon worth $40 towards the purchase of a box that will convert OTA digital signals to analog, so your TV will continue to work just fine.

What’s that? You have cable? Well, the government isn’t forcing the cable companies to convert from analog to digital, just OTA broadcasters. As far as the NTIA, the FCC, or Congress is concerned, cable companies can continue to manage their spectrum however they see fit. Cable companies are converting to digital so they can sell more channels, more VOD, more niche programming. Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidize Comcast’s ability to make more money?

If you think that the FCC should require cable companies to give away digital cable boxes prior to moving any analog channels to digital, that’s a different issue.

David says:

What's the big deal?

You know, I don’t understand this. Why would they have to subsidize the televisions anyways?
I’m sure some opportunist corporation would probably make an external antenna suited to getting the digital signal and converting it to the analog TV’s signal. It’s not impossible.

When RCA cables were new, neither the Government, nor the TV manufacturers wasted time and effort subsidizing TVs with Coaxial connectors– Instead, companies made converters.

This case is slightly different, since the airwaves are public, but that doesn’t mean they have to waste money replacing televisions.

How about worrying about the consequences of meaningful laws on the people they affect instead of worrying how laws affect peoples’ television.

DLB300 says:

Who is really making the profit?

Anyone understand why the government is willing to “compensate” the taxpayer in this instance? Our government is going to make BILLION$ in licensing contracts with the cellular telephone industry. How? They are selling public airways (belonging to all of us) to private companies. Sure this is so everyone in the U.S. can have multiple cellular devices (that in turn will earn the cell phone companies HUNDRED$ of BILLION$). The cost of progress you say. Our government is making the technology in our homes, perhaps purchased just this past weekend, obsolete through legislation so that big corporations can take even more out of your pockets. How are you going to feel when the issue is your 2nd or 3rd gasoline burning car instead of your 2nd television? Oh well, if you are rich enough to have two cars….So tell me again, why are you fussing about a few dollars in compensation for a converter box?

Anonymous Coward says:

Wait a minute?

I have to pay into this subsidy correct?

Then you are damned right I should get a box for my second TV. Or I will go so far as to say, I will get my own box, the cable company can not charge me for it(if you have your own digital box, some states allow the cable co. to charge you a fee), and I don’t have to pay the subsidy.

That would be fair.

DG Lewis (profile) says:

Re: Wait a minute?

One more time, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention.

The government is requiring broadcasters to stop transmitting analog TV signals over the air. You know, the way everyone used to get TV 30 years ago, rabbit ears, antenna on the roof, all that.

Because the government is requiring that broadcast to stop, they appropriated money (from the expected sale at auction of the spectrum licenses that are recovered when the frequencies are reallocated from broadcast TV to other purposes) to subsidize boxes to convert OVER THE AIR digital broadcast to analog. This is a normal practice when the FCC changes the use of a particular area of spectrum.

The NTIA (the Commerce Department agency responsible for implementing the subsidy program) proposed regulations that only households that do not subscribe to cable, satellite, or other similar service would be eligible for the subsidy.

Reps. Dingell, Markey, and others have sent a letter to the NTIA saying that the subsidy should not be limited in that way.

So if you’re a cable subscriber, you could get a $40 coupon off the purchase of a box that would convert digital over the air broadcast signals to analog. It’s not a digital cable box; it wouldn’t allow you to hook up your second TV to your digital cable and get ESPN8 The Ocho or any of those channels above 73. It would allow you to pick up your local broadcast TV signals on your old Sylvania 19″ TV with the dial on the front.

Oh, and it would increase the cost of the program to taxpayers by $40.

The Dukeman (profile) says:


It’s absurd to think that switching to digital only broadcasts will affect only a few people. I’m quite sure millions of folks in this country have only analog TVs. If the government shuts down the broadcasts that feed these TVs, then they definitely should subsidize D/A converters. The average TV lifespan is somewhere between 10-20 years, so just forcing out analog TVs in the marketplace is a very slow way to make the transition. If the government comes up with a TV set swap program that lets me trade my analog equipment for digital (not unlike heroin addicts going to a methodone clinic) then maybe I would consider the switch acceptable. Of course they won’t do that.

There are a few other issues involved here as well. a digital only TV set can guarantee someone else control over my programming in my own home, at least with new programming and without me doing or commissioning some hardware hacking. And not insignificant is the ergonomic factor. I would love nothing more than to use my PC on a screen as large as my TV set. I can watch my TV from my easy chair, but my PC must be accessed from an uncomfortable little chair, mainly because the PC’s monitor has to be small due to cost. My disability makes the access issue a little worse, but I am sure most people’s PC desk chairs can’t compare to their living room chairs and couches. A digital set that size would be great. But it certainly doesn’t fit into my budget. I’ve invested $$ over the years for analog video equipment, including Beta Hi Fi, 8mm, and yes, even a composite video monitor still in use. For those subsisting on Social Security, the financial burden of equipment replacement is too great. If you think those numbers are small you are incorrect. That’s why the Medicare legislation keeps getting changed; it affects too many to be ignored.

Dave Hoffman says:

Re: does anyone know?

Your rabbit ears may work. Tuners will not be required to be bundled with antenna. See for detailed technical review of Samsung DTB-H260F. The problem is the $180.00 cost. This is a full featured unit designed to accomplish everything related to DTV. The coupon qualified boxes should come in at maybe half that. See for information on antennas.

John Duncan Yoyo says:

I just want to see a few digital TV tuners for analog TV’s offered for sale at places like Walmart, Target, Best Buy or Circuit City. Once these things actually hit the market they shouldn’t be all that expensive.

I’d like to be able to get the secondary channels on PBS. The bribe is to get them to market and insure a market. I might even put one on our old B&W Muntz TV.

Sal (profile) says:

Cable not everywhere

It is worth mentioning that cable is NOT everywhere, where I live in northern NY and I’m sure many other areas of the country cable companies have not run their service to all areas mainly for the same reasons that phone companies wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for the USF. So, yes, there are economic reasons for not getting cable but they aren’t always personal reasons.

EW says:


Forget the technical jargon, and forget how much you invested in outdated equipment. Where does ANYONE get off demanding that I as a taxpayer pay for your entertainment, much less your entertainment times two, three, or four? We’re not talking freaking food stamps here, folks; we’re talking idiot boxes that none of us have to have. You want it, YOU pay for it.

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