Democracy Soup

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Government’s Role in Digital TV Transition Should Be to Help Those Who Want Help

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Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 06/12/2009 – 10:35am

Citizens view government in terms of what it does for their individual lives. And if those citizens have analog TVs without converter boxes and without cable or satellite, they may not see government in the best light by the time the day ends today.

Today is the final, ultimate, last-chance desperation D-Day for analog signals to go bye-bye. But you may have already noticed that some analog signals have already disappeared.

In a number of TV markets, stations went ahead and dumped their analog signals on the original February 17 deadline. In fact, just under half the stations in the country haven’t had analog signals since February. Still others made a conscious choice to dump that analog signal in the interim period. For example, in Chicago, the secondary PBS station (WYCC) stopped broadcasting in analog back in April.

This morning, the process is already starting. The primary PBS station here in Chicago (WTTW) dropped its analog signal sometime in the middle of last night.

But all these news stories are talking about the panic that will likely ensue as midnight comes and all the regular-power stations’ analog signals will go dark.

If we have learned one thing from TV news, if there is panic to be had, they would have covered it by now. And even though the story is about TV itself, there is still plenty of opportunity to air stories of panic.

The Bush Administration did a lousy job of setting this process up, not just in the implementation (the coupon fiascoes) but in scheduling a deadline in the middle of a sweeps period in the middle of the prime-time season in the middle of winter.

The Obama Administration, in trying to save a potential hassle, postponed the deadline to a summer date where the major conflicts of programming center around the NHL Stanley Cup Finals (tonight’s Game 7 is the final game of the year) and the NBA Finals (where the Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1).

Not that the analog/digital TV transition ranks high on the Top 50 Bush Administration screwups that Obama has had to fix, but on some strange level, television is more important to some people than the Middle East or Iraq or AIG.

We do focus on what we think about the major problems, the significant situations where government can make lives better. But there are those who really care about how this conversion is going.

And despite an extensive education campaign, a much improved coupon situation (thanks to Obama), and a 4-month extension (also thanks to Obama), there will still be people who, at midnight, will be without television. The idea in practice is to hope there are a minimum number of people, and resources are used to modify the situations as best they can.

Government is getting a boost from the TV stations themselves. Since low-powered stations aren’t affected by the transition, WWME (Ch. 23 in Chicago) will simulcast newcasts from WMAQ (NBC owned-and-operated station) and WGN (Tribune-owned superstation) for at least 30 days.

Of course, citizens will have to practice some common sense. If you are one of those people with a converter box, you should re-scan to make sure you are picking up all the signals you can. If your rabbit ears aren’t cutting it, you might need a stronger antenna, and you might need to point that antenna in a different direction for some channels. And, sadly, some people — because digital signals don’t travel as far as analog — who relied on antenna television for years might need to get basic cable or satellite service.

Those who don’t want help — and there will be those who choose this moment in time to stop watching over-the-air TV — can’t be helped. Some of the 2 million reported people who aren’t ready aren’t going to participate in that “revolution,” especially in the under-35 crowd that relies more on Web sites such as Hulu.com, Netflix subscriptions, and YouTube videos such as Keyboard Cat.

But those who will get caught in the shuffle, government should do what it can. But we, as a people, also need to rise up and help our neighbors and fellow human beings. Offer to install a converter box for someone who may not know how.

People should still be able to rely on the media, licenses that the people grant to television stations, to get information to be a better-informed society. We should provide that opportunity to anyone who wants it.

The government does have a Web site to help those who still need help. All the information is at dtv.gov. Good luck.

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Written by democracysoup

June 12, 2009 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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