Thursday, February 05, 2009

Negative Social Trends Traced to DTV Transition

Dateline: April 2010

Some interesting social trends are emerging across the country. A recent article in “All Things Baby” magazine reported an enormous and unusual spike in births during the month of March.

“We’ve seen birthrates suddenly jump to an all time high,” said David Umpdefratz. “We aren’t quite sure why.”

In addition to the increase in stork activity, communities are reporting that petty theft crime has rapidly increased. One jurisdiction, Nowhere, Nebraska, found itself having to increase its patrols at video stores because shelves were being wiped clean of DVD’s.

“You know it’s bad when ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ keeps disappearing over and over again,” said Sheriff Rue LaDay. “The stores can’t even keep ‘Ishtar’ on the shelf.”

Other communities report increases in the theft of DVD and Blue Ray players, video games, IPhones, board games and belly-lint removers.

A prominent religious counseling organization (that wishes to remain anonymous) said it was overwhelmed by couples seeking advice on filing for divorce.

“We can’t keep up with it, couples who have been married ten, fifteen even twenty-five years, are flooding our phones lines and offices,” said a spokesperson. “It’s like they suddenly woke up one day and realized that they had nothing in common and in fact, truly hated each other.”

Social psychologist Mary Upton believes these trends are somehow related.

“We starting seeing some of these behaviors emerge on June 13, 2009, the day after the DTV transition,” says Upton, “And they have continued to climb as time has gone on. It’s like New York after the blackout of 1965, people found themselves with too much time on their hands and began acting out in unusual ways.”

Although Congress delayed the digital transition, there were still millions of people who were unprepared for its eventuality. As late as February 2009, there were two million households on the waiting list for coupons to get converter boxes, not to mention the millions who had received the coupons but the coupons had expired or the millions who had not applied for the coupons. Between February 2009 and June 12, 2009, the rush to get the converter boxes was so high, manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand. Millions of households lost their analog signals and their television sets went dark.

“Television is such an important societal control,” says Upton. “When people watch TV they become more placid, even lazy, so they don’t have the urge to engage in certain behaviors, like romance for instance. Also, when people watch TV they don’t really have to interact with one another. That’s why we are seeing the spike in the divorce rate, when these couples weren’t interacting they didn’t realize they were miserable or that they had married the wrong person.”

One benefit from so many households not getting free TV has been the re-emergence of some positive family interaction and earlier bed times.

“We are also seeing an increase in families playing Parcheesi or Life,” reports Upton. “Children are taking up coloring again and Crayola sales have gone through the roof. Also, without TV, children don’t mind going to bed at 8:00 or 9:00, they’re pretty bored by that point.”

No one is quite sure how many households are actually capable of receiving a digital signal but don’t get one because of terrain or building obstruction. The broadcast industry has never been able to quite make digital broadcast as reliable as the old analog signals. Some analysts guess there are millions of these “digital ready” households that for a majority of the day, lose their signal.

“There are millions that don’t have the converter boxes and then there are millions that either have the converter boxes or have digital ready sets but can’t get a signal,” said Upton. “There is no good data on how many we are talking about. But I do know, until these issues get resolved we’re going to see more babies, more theft of lousy “B” movies and more couples filing for divorce.”

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Blind to the Law

at&t keeps making these “presentations” in places they say they say they are going to build. They pull Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access managers into a room and extol the virtues of PEG on U-Verse. The infamous channel 99 ghetto for PEG channels. The PEG “solution.”

“We’ve lowered the load time to 8 seconds.”

“Your viewers will be able to watch city council meetings from other cities.”

“The quality is great! 480 x 480.”

“It only takes 4 clicks on the menu to find your channel.”

I can’t remember the last time I waited 8 seconds for anything to load. I get irritated when it takes more than 10 seconds to put the hot in my coffee. Around my house, it’s speed-racer time when a program goes to commercial, who can be the quickest to mute it or change the channel? I can barely stand to watch county council meetings in my own county, why on earth would I want to watch Anne Arundel or Baltimore County meetings? The pixels are the equivalent of a cell phone and no, I don’t want to click, click, click, click to get to the school district snow closing notices.

I’m glad somebody is finally taking some action. The Alliance for Community Media with the Alliance for Communications Democracy and a host of other organizations, filed a petition at the FCC on January 30th for a declaratory ruling that AT&T’s delivery of PEG is contrary to the Communications Act. This petition comes on the heels of a much encouraging Congressional hearing in September (that AT&T completely snubbed) and the heels of a tersely worded letter to the FCC by the representatives at the hearing, telling the FCC that changes in the cable industry should not result in PEG being treated as second-class.

The petition is asking the FCC to determine if AT&T is violating the law. What I am really waiting anxiously for is AT&T’s response, it should be juicy!

“We’re not violating the law, because in order for us to violate the law, we would have to acknowledge the law and agree with it. And we certainly are not acknowledging it or agreeing to it, so there!” That seems to be the attitude du jour in corners political and industrial.

The implications for this are farther reaching than just old Ma Bell and her particular prism of perception. The big boy cable operators have mentioned moving PEG to IPTV delivery and “video hubs” and the regionalization of PEG channels. They haven’t aggressively pursued this because as usual they are watching and waiting, if at&t can get away with it, then it’s everybody in the pool!

Throughout the petition it was the pointed out that “open” captioning is not the same as “close” captioning. Especially given that digital televisions allow one to increase the font, change the font color and change the font background. Having to squint at a rapid pace CNN type scroll is not the same. I know, at&t will claim that people who are deaf always have fabulous eyesight, so no problem.

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with a fellow who worked at one of the more outspoken organizations for the blind. I explained how U-verse worked, the menu driven thing, and he suggested that there was possibly a Disabilities Act violation at work. Think about it, if you are blind you can punch the buttons on your remote and voila, you are at a channel. And if you are blind you cannot navigate the at&t menu driven one lane country road to PEG. You have to actually see the screen in order to choose the PEG channels. Of course, as one cable operator said to me “blind people don’t watch television.”

Well I guess that settles that, if the industry says so it must be true.

It should be good, excellent reading when at&t files their counter petition. I wonder how many lawyers they already got working on that. And I wonder, what kind of lobbying effort will they pursue to get the Communications Act changed in their favor? My advice to at&t, next time there’s a hearing on Capitol Hill and you’ve been called to testify, try to do your best to show up.

To see the petition and press release go to:

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