Let’s get digital

While there was television to be watched before that, TV as we know it arrived in 1941, with the adoption of the technological standards proposed by the National Television Standards Committee.

And it departs in February 2009, superseded by purely-digital transmissions, motivated largely by the desire to free up spectrum space. So the frequencies occupied by channels 2 through 6 and 52 through 69 (70 to 83 disappeared years ago) will end up doing something else. This will likely accommodate more stations, which seems odd until you consider that it’s possible to put digital stations in the same area on adjacent channels, something you could never do in the old analog system. (Before you write in: there’s a 4-MHz hole between 4 and 5; 6 and 7 are on totally separate bands; likewise 13 and 14.)

The impact of all this on cable subscribers will likely be relatively minor, but if you get your signals off the air as God and General Sarnoff intended, your world grinds to a screeching halt:

I have an antenna on the top of my house and I get the broadcast channels, thank you very much. And really I don’t want anymore than that because I actually have to get something done — with 227 channels my ass is glued to the barcalounger and only moves for snacks. What about us? Well, we get a $40 coupon from the government (or so they say) with which to buy the converter box which will likely retail for $60. Though something tells me, that if you’re not low income or can’t prove you’re needy you’ll end up paying the full $60 out of your own pocket. Just a feeling I have so don’t quote me.

Whoops. Sorry.

Apparently the “air” they now use to broadcast television signals the old-fashioned way will be auctioned off for other use. Now, don’t you have to wonder who is going to bid on that air and what the heck are they going to do with it? It seems to me that every square inch of space doesn’t have to be used. We could just let it be, couldn’t we? Nope, it’s going to be auctioned off and it wouldn’t surprise me [if] Lil Kim of Korea or Imajihad of Iran or Chubby Chavez bought it all up and piped in subliminal messages to us yuglee Americans.

This seems unlikely, since it’s unnecessary: bad actors on the world stage have an automatic audience in Washington and need only persuade them. This requires no spectrum space at all.

While this “transition” is ostensibly a done deal, not everyone is thus persuaded:

[T]here are way too many people who still own analog TVs. My dad is one of them. He’s using a TV that I bought him back when I worked at LZ Premiums back in the 1980s. He’d like to get a new HD TV, but he comes from a generation that doesn’t throw things away just because a better one comes along. Not to mention that his house isn’t setup for a big screen. Oh, and older people vote, and vote more often than younger people. He also has a lot more resources than my generation does — resources that can go into getting heard. But, you try taking away analog TV from people like my dad and you watch the political uproar.

My own thinking:

  • I’m fine with the transition date. I have only two television sets, one of which is already set up to receive digital signals. (Okay, there are a couple of portables lying around, but neither of them gets any use as a television set: one of them is an emergency box with lights and radio and siren built in, and the other has been sitting in the garage as long as I’ve had a garage.)
  • The government is salivating at the thought of snagging $30 billion or so from auctioning off all this spectrum; at some point it will be pitched as a deficit-reduction measure.
  • Too many of the Usual Suspects will be bidding on this space; I think there should be a segment reserved — maybe 18 or 24 MHz, three or four channels’ worth — open to the public for whatever uses may occur to it and not subject to endless FCC rulemaking.

About the only thing that is certain is that they’re not going to turn the whole damn thing over to Google.


  1. McGehee »

    29 July 2007 · 12:09 pm

    Before you write in: there’s a 4-MHz hole between 4 and 5;

    I had sometimes wondered about KRON and KPIX in my TV Guide, back in my Sacramento days. (Sacramento, BTW, was one of the last major markets to award a cable franchise, and even then I didn’t have cable until I moved to Fairbanks.)

  2. writer chick »

    29 July 2007 · 12:34 pm

    Hey Dustbury,
    Thanks for quoting my post – I had no idea I’d inspired you so. ;)

  3. CGHill »

    29 July 2007 · 12:37 pm

    There’s always the question of whether the allocation process was politicized, and those who argue that it is will usually bring up KTBC-TV (channel 7) in Austin, the single commercial VHF allocation for that city, and which was assigned back in ’52 to a fellow named Lyndon Baines Johnson and his lovely bride Lady Bird. Mr Johnson, by some strange coincidence, was a Senator from Texas. (Austin didn’t get a second station until 1965, and when they did, it was on channel 42.)

    Maybe, maybe not. San Antonio, which was a lot bigger, got three channels (4, 5 and 12); the Temple-Waco area had two (6 and 10); 9 was reserved for educational use (it’s now the PBS affiliate in San Antonio); 2, 11 and 13 were assigned to Houston; 3 was assigned to Corpus Christi, though it didn’t go on the air until the mid-1960s; 8 was out for spacing reasons.

  4. Mister Snitch! »

    29 July 2007 · 12:56 pm

    “About the only thing that is certain is that they’re not going to turn the whole damn thing over to Google.”

    They THINK they’re not going to turn it over to Google. But Google will find a way into the TV box. Like the ghosts in Poltergeist, one day you’ll be sitting in front of the TV and you’ll realize: “They’re heeere.”

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