Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Dancing In The Dark

Sometimes I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. Okay, ALL the time I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut.

My husband and I were at Best Buy looking for new stereo speakers when we happened to stroll over toward the televisions. We stood transfixed in front of a huge HDTV screen, oooohing and aaaahing at the crystal clear images of colorful fish swimming in bright blue water. I backed up a few feet to get a different perspective without realizing that I was now at the entrance of the analog television aisle.

A salesman was telling a potential customer about all the advantages of a 39” color T.V. and that the price of just $339 was an incredible steal. Overhearing the conversation I turned to the two men and said to the customer “Don’t buy that set.” The salesman gave me a dirty look. “Why not?” asked the customer. “Because next year it’s not going to work,” I said.

The salesman jumped in “Ma’am, we guarantee all our products with an extended warranty.”

“Yes, but you also know that the digital deadline is coming and if he buys this set he’ll have to get an expensive converter box to make it work.”

I felt it my civic duty to explain to this man the plan for digital transition and was doing pretty good at it until my husband sidled up to me with that “It’s time to go” look on his face.

I don’t necessarily mind the transition to digital, although truthfully I only watch home improvement shows and Law and Order re-runs, but what I do mind is that the majority of the American public has no idea what is headed their way. Large and small analog sets are being blown out as fast as you can print a Sunday circular and none of these sets come with a warning to inform the public that they will go black in a year and a half. That should be criminal, in fact I’d call it fraud, but the manufacturers and retail outlets are still selling these products, 30 million of them in 2004.

Jonathan Adelstein told reporters “I think if there is a cutoff of analog service, we’re going to have an amazing uproar from the public if there is not really a lot of effort made to prepare the public and give them the tools they need to be able to receive television signals in their homes.”

Ya think?

Adelstein was right that it is up to Congress to figure this one out. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has introduced legislation to provide a hard-date for analog cutoff and to provide subsidies for low income families that can’t afford the converter boxes. The legislation also contains a provision for fairy dust that will bring the price of the boxes down from their current $300 to $1,200 price range to just $50 per in the next year. Barton says the subsidy will cost less than $1 billion dollars, but the Government Accounting Office gives an estimated price range of $460 million to as much as $10.6 billion. The broad price discrepancy in the GAO study leads me to believe that nobody (not a single living soul, especially not those beltway bandits) know what they are talking about!

Meanwhile have you seen one PSA on digital transition? I haven’t. Have you heard radio PSA’s on the subject or seen a note slipped into your tax forms or car registrations or Social Security updates? How about billboards? Or newspaper ads or bus signs?

What’s the plan for handing out these boxes? Will people have to line up “cheese give-away” style in church parking lots to get their converters? And what if they can’t figure out how to hook them up, will there be a special squad of “digital transition” first responders roaming neighborhoods for on-call assistance?

What if they underestimate the demand and the box guys can’t pump them out fast enough? I saw gentle housewives turn into vicious animals when Toys R Us ran out of Tickle-Me-Elmo, can you imagine what a few million men will do in January 2007 when they discover they can’t get the SuperBowl?

I believe God gives people brains to use, not to sit on, but even when the guys on Capitol Hill are standing it seems their elevators don’t run all the way to the top. Now, not next year, is the time for Congress to figure this mess out. And any time in the next twenty or so months they might want to make even a half-hearted attempt to inform the American public.

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Anonymous said...

Im from Texas, and I find it extremely funny that Joe Barton (R-Texas) would be introducing a bill to subsidise televison converters at the same time that all Texas republican leaders are participating in the decimation of social programs om a state and national level, epecially those programs that would be of benefit to the recipients of his proposed TV welfare program.

Anonymous said...

It's typical also that this is being rammed down our throats whether everyone wants it or not! All in the name of it 'being in our best intrest'!