Category Archives: Electronics

Switch To Digital Tv Technology Provokes Political Posturing

With the up coming switch from analog TV to digital TV formats for over the air broadcasts of TV signals coming up, more and more private TV companies- including cable TV companies- have been making plans to educate the public about the transition. When the transition is made to digital TV on February 17, 2009, anyone who has been relying on over the air TV broadcasts to get their TV- and who doesn’t have a digital TV or a converter box for their analog TV set- will be unable to watch TV. That’s because, on February 17, 2009 analog TV broadcasts will be shut off and only digital TV signals will remain.
This transition, which has been in the works since the mid nineteen nineties- has drawn a lot of criticism from a number of sources. For example some consumer groups claim that the transition is a way for electronics manufacturers to increase their profits by forcing consumers to by new TV equipment. While this conspiracy scenario may or may not be a reality, it certainly does have some basis in fact. For example, despite widespread knowledge that the analog to digital transition was coming at some point (the February 2009 deadline wasn’t set until last year and it’s actually a delay of previous deadlines), electronics manufacturers and retailers have been selling analog only TV sets all along without any disclaimer warning consumers that their new TV set would be obsolete and useless before it needs to be discarded from normal wear and tear. This obviously puts consumers in a position where they have to either buy a new TV set, buy a converter box that will switch the digital TV signals into analog signal before sending them to the TV, or subscribe to a cable TV or satellite TV service. Of course, the government does have a program to subsidy the purchase of converter boxes, but the subsidies aren’t expected to cover the full cost of the converter boxes. In any case, the consumer electronics industry obviously profits from the transition regardless of whether consumers pay for the converter boxes directly or through taxes that fund the government subsidy.
Another, more prevalent, criticism of how the transition is being handled aims at the education of the public. Recent surveys indicate that the majority of the public- especially the portion that relies on over the air broadcasts for their TV- don’t even know exactly what digital TV is, let alone that the transition to all digital TV broadcasts is imminent. Because of this, some analysts have gone so far as to predict widespread social unrest when, less than two years from now, viewers of over the air TV wake to find that they can’t enjoy their favorite programming anymore. While that’s not realistic, it is clear that the money that the government has set aside for education about the transition is insufficient.
In another development the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative John Dingell, recently promised not to allow any American to be without their TV upon the transition. That seems a lot like political posturing and not to be very realistic. In any case, only time will tell how smoothly the transition takes place.