Reality Bytes: My Fellow Americans

Red states, blue states. Which color do you subscribe to? My fellow Americans, as November approaches, our country faces a monumental decision. Our great society must choose between two very different candidates with visions of the future that are profoundly diverse. All of us must look into our hearts, and answer the question: satellite or cable?

The political map is crystal clear: Viewed county by county, America is a nation of wide-open red spaces with small, intensely blue pockets. In 2004, excluding Alaska, George W. Bush won 2,540,000 square miles of counties, while John Kerry won 592,000. Yet the decider isn't land mass, but the land's citizens. And the people in the rural red areas are evenly balanced by the people in the dense blue cities. That essential difference in place dictates the choices they make.

Satellite has seen its share of troubles, and many people disapprove of its performance. But its loyal supporters, scattered across the American heartland, remain true to the cause. Cable ignores them because they're too remote, but satellite beams its welcome footprint everywhere. The tiny dishes are proudly displayed on doublewides and on the clubhouses at country clubs, perhaps as a way of saying that people in open spaces don't need connections to larger systems, at least not hard-wired ones. When it rains and the signal is lost, the satellite people don't mind - they're too busy worrying about the effect of the storm on their crops.

Satellite's candidate, a respected veteran (like many of the satellites themselves), has been called an old bird. But the military-industrial complex that built both the satellites and the candidate built them to last. Moreover, satellite is changing with the times. Acre-sized C-band dishes have been replaced by high-tech Ka/Ku-band dishes. DirecTV is a champion of the satellite party, and it rewards its supporters with enticing entitlements. Its five-LNB dish, looking at five different satellites, is a satellite junkie's dream come true.

The cable party is the boss in the cities. People in high-rises can only view the sky in thin slivers, let alone see an unobstructed view of the southern horizon. In cities, you can't see the stars at night, or the satellites either. A satellite dish on Park Avenue? Surely you jest. Tightly packed city dwellers are more reliant on infrastructure than country folk. In their dense world, it's just more efficient to wire up apartments and condos. Cities cast their votes for hard-wired connections.

But this hard-wired party is made up of more than traditional cable. In fact, an exciting newcomer has challenged the old wires that claimed to feel your pain. The party of wires now has a modern candidate, promising change you can believe in. This is a new kind of cable, unencumbered by old baggage. Verizon FiOS is a broadband Internet, phone, and TV service that brings a hard-wired fiber-optic pipe right to the subscriber's home - a veritable chicken in every pot. Taking full advantage of the Web, FiOS's TV Central Web site will let customers program their DVRs from any location with an Internet connection. Truly visionary.

FiOS might have a wonderful future, but it might not be for everyone. Availability is still limited, and only time will tell if its popularity can spread beyond its early fervent supporters. FiOS might upset established copper-cable providers, but can it appeal to satellite loyalists? Ultimately, of course, it's the numbers that count. The candidate with the most high-def channels will win. Satellite has moved swiftly. DirecTV surged last fall, upping its HD channels from 9 to 90 in less than 3 months. And with a new satellite launch, that number is now jumping to 150. By comparison, FiOS trails badly with only 30 HD channels. But by the end of the year, Verizon promises to deliver - you guessed it - 150 channels. With the vote tied at 150 to 150, we can only wait to see what happens. Who will win: the doublewides or the high-rises? Wireless or wired? The answer is yours to decide. When it comes time to choose, my fellow Americans, I urge you to stand up and let your voice be heard. Then sit down and watch TV. Good night, and God bless America.

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