Hawes Mechanical Television Archive by James T. Hawes, AA9DT
DTV Changeover FAQ, Part 4

DTV Politics

QUESTION. Why do we need to convert?

ANSWER. Because Uncle Sam says so.

The congress that you elected decided to force Americans to convert. You never received a chance to vote on the change. You never had a chance to decide at the cash register.

After February 17, 2009, your perfectly good television set will stop working. Any other video equipment that has just an analog tuner will stop receiving TV pictures. This equipment might include...

  • Your DVD player or recorder

  • Your VCR

  • Your TiVo

What the government did to our freedom of choice with television can and will happen again. Whenever you have a choice, use your vote to restore and protect your freedom.


QUESTION. When did the changeover decision occur?

ANSWER. In 2006. At the end of 2005, the 109th Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. (This act began as the bills HR 4241 and S 1932.) On February 8, 2006, the president signed the act into law.

What does deficit reduction have to do with digital television? Not much. Congress tacked the DTV switchover to the bottom of the House and Senate budget bills. In the House bill, DTV provisions appear at Subtitle D. In the Senate version, DTV provisions appear at Title III.

Anyway, a vote in favor of deficit reduction also supported the 2009 DTV boondoggle. See...

House Bill HR 4241 Senate Bill S 1932


QUESTION. Isn't ATSC, digital television superior to NTSC, analog television?

ANSWER. No. Consider that the government has to force us to buy digital TV. In many areas, digital television has been available for years. Yet over 20 million households continue to watch over-the-air, analog TV. By cable, many tens of millions more choose analog TV. Some of these households have two, three, four or more analog sets. If digital television were really superior, the American free-market system would obsolete analog TV.

Let's be clear. In an engineering sense, ATSC has advantages over NTSC. For example, the average ATSC signal is stronger. Also, broadcasters can transmit several digital shows per channel. But these are just features. Consumers want benefits. And consumers have many reasons to be skeptical...

  • They know that digital is incompatible with the TV in the den.

  • They consider the expense of buying a converter. Even if the converter were free, driving to the mall and shopping costs time and money.

  • They consider the inconvenience of installing a converter.

  • They know that more channels don't equal better programming. Anyway, how many can you watch at once?

  • Some know that after they install the converter, TV looks about the same as before.

  • Some know that digital TV pictures are full of artifacts.

  • Some know that with the converter, their TV remote won't work properly.

  • Some know that the converter breaks the show-recording feature of their analog VCR.

  • Some know that most converters block analog shows.

  • Some know that DTV fringe reception often means either no signal, or an annoying, blinking signal.

  • Some know that the $40 coupons don't cover converters that can reproduce high-end video.


QUESTION. Why would our government do this?

ANSWER. Your government profits by selling vacated television frequencies. Since these frequencies belong to the public, the government acts as your "selling agent." Of course, mostly offshore electronics manufacturers profit, too. And merchants now have a chance to sell you expensive new equipment. Your congress is tossing candy to all these guys.

Notice that the changeover doesn't occur in an election year. Uncle Sam wouldn't want you to take umbrage and vote anyone out of office. Also, before the election, he wants you to be able to enjoy campaign ads.


QUESTION. Is there any precedent for the DTV changeover?

ANSWER. Yes. In 1950, the government mandated that US black-and-white television would become obsolete. A new, incompatible color system would replace it. For a while, Americans could choose between the two systems. The color sets went on sale in 1951. Consumers decisively rejected them.

Two years later, TV engineers came up with a better color system. This new system, NTSC, didn't obsolete black-and-white receivers. Americans adopted this compatible color system. It served us well for over 50 years.

Lesson. Congress learned this lesson: Sometimes the consumer doesnít elect Uncle Samís choice. Now Congress has a far better way to control what Americans buy and watch: Command economics. Order broadcasters to shut down analog transmitters in 2009. Order manufacturers to sell digital converters. Meanwhile, the stores receive a special chance to sell high-margin TVs. The landfill absorbs millions of analog TVs, VCRs and DVD players that still work. And soon, we top off the dump with the famous converter boxes.

Warmup. Digital television might only be the warmup. For instance: How about that car in your driveway? It emits carbon that threatens the environment. Simon says: "Citizen Doe, scrap the vehicle and buy a new one!" Your coupon is in the mail...


QUESTION. What if I don't want to convert?

ANSWER. Do you live in a northern or southern border state? (For example, in the south: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada or California, etc. In the north: Washington, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, etc.) Speak Spanish or French? Want to learn? You might be in luck. Mexico isn't going to convert until 2022. Canada isn't going to convert until 2011. Cuba will be telecasting in NTSC for quite some time to come. See...
  • Conversion

  • Canadian TV

  • Mexican TV

  • Other Latin American & Caribbean TV

  • If you don't convert, you have other options, too...

    • You can still watch recorded shows on DVD or tape.

    • You can still watch over-the-air broadcasts from low-power TV stations. For station availability, check your local listings.

    • You can still watch shows over some cable or satellite systems. Of course, you'll have to buy a program package. (Cable and satellite services will eventually convert to digital, too.)

    QUESTION. Aren't the coupons great? Uncle Sam should give us coupons for everything!

    ANSWER. Everything that Uncle Sam "gives" you comes out of your own pocket. Wouldn't you rather decide how to spend your own money? You earned it, after all.

    In this country, one of our main freedoms is the "pursuit of happiness." This right is disappearing. Already, our government is telling us what what type of TV we can buy and watch. Think about that. This is a problem that we can solve. We can still elect people who appreciate that they work for us, and not the other way around.

    That covers elected officials such as senators and congresspeople. What about appointed officials, such as FCC commissioners?

    For the FCC, turnabout is fair play. Why obsolete television? Obsolete the FCC instead. After that, close the Department of Commerce. An act of congress and a presidential signature would do the job. Shutting down these wasteful bureaucracies could save US taxpayers billions of dollars. Some other agency could carry on the few useful duties of these bureaucracies. (These duties include preventing interference and station licensing.) Meanwhile, we'd increase our freedoms. By the way, I'm not the first to suggest this remedy. See: Eliminate the FCC.


    QUESTION. The NTIA says that DTV coupons don't come out of taxes. Are we paying, or not?

    ANSWER. We're paying. Hold onto your wallet. Congress thinks your name Easy Money. Your income taxes have already funded the coupon-rationing program. In fact, you're also paying for the extension from March 31 to July 31, 2009. You're even paying for the NTIA to advertise that you aren't paying.

    In all the malarkey, we find this element of truth: According to plan, proceeds from the sale of "old" frequencies should reimburse the government.

    Yet that statement begs the question: How about interest on the money that taxpayers loaned the government? Congress hasn't mentioned any interest distribution. And there's more...

    No revenue from frequency sales accrues to citizens. Unfortunately, by the FCC Act, we citizens, the public, own the airwaves. Then the government is our agent in selling our property. Since all proceeds revert to the government and not to citizens, we are paying a special tax.

    Suppose that the frequencies don't sell, or sell at a discount. Then the income tax fund or inflation must take up the slack. Bottom line: Taxes of a different kind are taxes. The government doesn't make money. It spends money. That money comes from you and me. We can call the converter fund "taxes." Or we can wink and call it something else. Yet either way, the fund is a tax.





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