Money for Nothing (to Watch)
New survey results compiled by the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America indicate that 39 percent of American households - nearly triple the percent found in a Consumer Electronics Association's (CEA) study - have at least one TV relying solely on analog over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting. The analog tuners in these non-digital TVs - all 80+ million of them - will receive nothing but static once the "N" in NTSC begins to stand for "Nostalgia".
The CU/CFA survey also found that 15 percent (16 million) of U.S. TV-viewing households rely solely on OTA broadcasting for television viewing. Additionally, 45 million analog TVs found in households subscribing to either cable or satellite are not connected to a pay service and are used to view OTA broadcasts.
The CEA disputes the validity of the CU/CFA findings saying that the survey "appears to significantly overstate the number of televisions used to view OTA broadcasting."
"Our data," a CEA release states, "is extremely comprehensive - unlike the CU/CFA survey, we asked about the specific usage of each individual set in a household. We also limited our survey to TVs in the household that had been used at some point within the prior three months, thereby allowing us to have an accurate, real world analysis of TVs that are in use."
The actual number of OTA TV-viewing households is important to current Congressional debate over setting a hard cut-off date for analog OTA broadcasts as well as whether a subsidy program should be funded for owners of analog TVs affected by the DTV switch. Administration of such a program would be difficult to say the least.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently looked at the feasibility of such a program.
"One of several key challenges we identified," the GAO report states, "would be determining those eligible to receive a subsidy. If the subsidy were restricted to low-income households or to households that rely exclusively on over-the-air television, methods to identify these households would need to be developed and may prove to be challenging. Another key challenge would be ensuring that eligible recipients understand the availability of a subsidy, how they could obtain it, and what equipment would be subsidized.
"Several administrative options could be used to provide a government subsidy to help households obtain DTV equipment, including a refundable tax credit, government distribution of equipment, a voucher program, and a rebate program. The suitability of any of these methods depends on aspects of the subsidy's design, such as which entity is most appropriate to administer the subsidy and who would be eligible to receive the benefit."
The GAO estimates DTV converters for analog TVs will cost at least $50 each. The Consumer Federation of American says that, based on the GAO's figures, "the direct cost to consumers for the government-mandated transition to digital-only broadcasting could be $3.5 billion or more."
"Consumers will already have to bear the inconvenience of acquiring new equipment to keep their otherwise perfectly good TVs working," points out Gene Kimmelman, Public Policy Director for Consumers Union. (He's evidently an ultra-lefty who really needs to get in touch with his inner ultra-righty...) "They shouldn't also have to fork over $50 per set. Since Congress is expected to raise more than $10 billion from the spectrum auction, why shouldn't that money first be used to help consumers with the cost of keeping their TVs working? The first rule Congress must abide by is do no harm to consumers."
Do no harm. Hmm, what a concept...
(Politics and funding aside, however, I still think HDTV is a wonderful thing. And, by the way, can I have that subsidy deposited directly to my bank account?)