Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Legislation for Dummies: The Great TV Bailout

No, it's not the title of a new book that's out on how dummies can produce legislation. We have plenty of examples of that already. I'm talking about how our government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to guarantee our ability to watch TV. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall that being one of our constitutional rights.

In short, the government is selling off the radio frequencies used by analog TV signals, and all the TV stations will move their over-the-air broadcasts to digital, using a different frequency. Those stations are already broadcasting digitally now, so they're using both the old and new in parallel until they pull the plug on the analog broadcasts.

That means old analog TVs will go dark eventually. It was scheduled to happen on February 17th, but is being delayed to June 12th by Congress because of the millions of Americans who are too lazy to plod from the TV to the computer and fill out a web form for a $40 discount coupon for their own converter. (Be prepared to wait if you fill out the form, since they ran out of money and have 2.5 million procrastinators in line in front of you.)

Now let's look at the best and worst that could happen, irrespective of when the cutoff happens.

Worst: The people with old TVs who have no converter box will have their TVs go dark. Assuming the worst, they don't have the $40-50 to get a converter and didn't bother to order the discount coupon that would almost entirely pay for one. Bummer. Maybe they'll have to read a book or newspaper, or listen to the radio. I generally have greater disasters than that in my home on a weekly basis.

Low mid-range: TV goes dark, and Joe Sixpack hears at the water cooler that he needs a converter, and goes out to buy one during lunch. He never heard of the coupon program that was covered extensively by TV, radio, and newspaper for months. To pay for it, he has to give up two or three dinner dates with his sweetie, but it's worth it to make the TV start working again.

High mid-range: Joe Sixpack buys a new digital TV. Yeah, it costs him more money, but he was looking for an excuse to get a 50 inch plasma.

Best: Everyone who planned ahead is rewarded for their efforts. TV doesn't skip a beat, either because they have cable or satellite, already had a new TV with a digital receiver, or they had the government buy them a converter box via the tax-funded coupons. No interruption in turning our brains to goo on a nightly basis, courtesy of the Great TV Bailout.

This actually has much greater reach and impact than the silly TV signal issue. Let's stop removing consequences from the triad of poor choices, procrastination and ignorance. Technology advances, and we deal with it. I have video cards in a spares box that won't fit in my computer. Should I demand that the government fund an exchange program so I can upgrade my AGP to PCIe? Or an exchange program to tun in IDE disk drives in for new SATAs?

The proper way to handle it is to let people change over time and to learn from both their mistakes and the advance of society. Stop teaching people that the government will always step in and save us from ourselves. I don't want the government to waste all those tax dollars on coddling. Let's learn our lessons and get on with it.


Phelonius said...

I understand that something like $60 million is being put into the new "stimulus package" just for these converter boxes as well.

Mark Twain said once that there is only one criminal class in the United States, and it resides in Congress.

Kelly said...

TV??? What is that?

Oh its that box I plug Rock band and DDR2 into...ahhhh.