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What Happens To Poor When TV Signal Goes Digital?

First let me introduce myself. I am currently a video editor of the Evening News covering mostly the Pentagon, and Face the Nation. I am one of the lucky one's where my hobby turned into my profession. I was interested in broadcasting at a very early age and probably pressed my little nose up to every radio studio in the Silver Spring and Washington, D.C. area as a youngster. I built my first FM transmitter in High School when attending a military school and transmitted music to an isolated campus in Virgina. When I was in college I worked part time at several radio stations as either a technician, board operator, or announcer. I moved into TV in the early days of movie delivery to hotels and homes which later turned into HBO and joined CBS in 1977. I left CBS in 1985 to work freelance and moved west to Wyoming to buy and operate a radio station. I later became a news director of a TV station in Nebraska, and moved back to D.C. In 1999 and was rehired at CBS in 2000. I like moonlit walks on the beach and puppies … Oh, sorry, that's for my Myspace profile …

As someone who is in broadcasting, I keep informed regarding the digital TV transmission transition schedule, but probably most of the public is unaware of a deadline approaching. In about 2 years, the FCC has mandated that all analog TV transmission cease – and all broadcasting becomes digital only. This date has been moved back several times and was originally July 2005. I was watching the hearing on the hill this past Wednesday regarding the proposed XM and Sirius merger and heard "serving the public" from several people testifying as well as on the committee. The decision to cut off completely reminds me of those early morning sessions in congress when something is slipped in just before the vote when most are asleep. To me this decision does not serve a large minority of our population.

I have always felt that this deadline was unfair to the poor and elderly because most of them have no means of upgrading to current technology. There is a proposal for discount coupons for converter boxes, but no price has been stated at these boxes. My mother still has a vintage late 70's Sony Trinitron that still works. I can't see her trying to figure out how to hookup an adaptor box to that TV. Remember when VCR's came out and most blinked 12:00 for years? This might be a level of difficulty a little higher than that. And inner city and rural poor who worry more about their next meal won't be able to afford a box that probably cost more than their TV. Now I understand that Cable and Satellite TV is roughly in 85% of homes in the US, but there are people who live in certain areas where neither would work or be available. I lived in a small town in Nebraska and the only way to see my local news was to put up an outside antenna. In small towns, you can't get your local TV on Dish Network or Direct TV.

Now the reason the FCC has decreed this is so the space freed up by turning off the analog TV transmitters can be re-auctioned for other services. I understand the need for more bandwidth for emerging technology. But my solution is to follow what British TV did when it transitioned from its original TV standard of 405 lines on VHF to 625 on UHF. It kept the 405 system up from the transition to 625 in 1967 to well into the 1980's. By that time aged sets had died off and there was no hardship for those who had to replace anyway. I don't think we need that long of an overlap. But I would suggest that we continue analog transmission at least a few more years -- at least to 2012, where the Mayan calendar says the world will end anyway. So after that it's a moot point. Mid-sized standard definition TV's have just recently become available and I don't know of any portable TVs today that have a digital tuner.

Mostly pressure from broadcasters has influenced the FCC to move back the deadline since production and installation of digital broadcast equipment and installing new transmission antennas is costly and time consuming. Now if the public. … You and I. …. could also bring such influence to the FCC, it could prevent a tsunami of complaints from the public on February 18, 2009, the day after the current deadline. If Jericho is still on the air then, at least people would be able to see the bomb the day after instead of feeling like they were the ones bombed.

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