Apocalypse Coming Soon

First, the good news: when you turn on your analog TV at 11:59 p.m. on April 6, 2009, you'll get pictures and sound. And now the bad news: at midnight and forever after, your TV will never receive a signal again.

As you might expect, the federal government is behind this. It doesn't own any TV stations, but it does own the broadcast spectrum - the frequencies over which TV is broadcast. To use those frequencies, commercial TV stations have to play by the government's rules. And the new rule is that it wants some of those frequencies back. Actually, the government is trading the old frequencies for some new ones, but the new ones can only be used to broadcast digital signals. So when the old frequencies go dark (the Senate bill targets an April 7, 2009, cutoff and the House bill says December 31, 2008), analog TV broadcasting will cease in the United States. And in an instant, about a zillion analog TVs will become obsolete.

All those people smugly kicking up their feet in front of their beautiful new digital TVs probably won't even notice. Others will buy some kind of tuner/adapter that will receive the new signals and display them on their old analog sets. But countless viewers with a TV in the guest room or an old set in the garage or basement will wind up with junk.

Why is the government doing this? Because it knows what's best for everyone, and digital TV - with its undistorted pictures and potential for high-definition - is unquestionably what's best. That belief is certainly not influenced by the fact that the government will make billions auctioning off the old analog spectrum. And of course, TV manufacturers will also make a few bucks selling digital TVs and tuners. No matter who benefits, and regardless of whether a largesse-inspired government decides to buy adapters for people with analog TVs, it is you and I who will pay the entire cost.

I'm not complaining. But in the spirit of things, as long as we're legislating costly and inconvenient improvements in people's lives, let's abolish analog radio. What the heck - if it's good for TV, it's good for radio. And why stop there? Let's abolish CDs, too. Manufacturing those plastic discs consumes valuable petroleum that should be put where it's really needed - in the gas tanks of SUVs.

But you know what, since your car's CD radio won't work anymore, why bother driving? Let's just abolish cars, and make everybody ride bicycles. If cycling is good enough for the Chinese, it must be good for Americans. Of course, the Chinese are the ones who'll be making all the digital TVs that we'll be buying. Soon, everyone in China will be rich enough to buy a new car. I think it's only fair that we stop using gasoline so they can gas up instead. They'll certainly need it more than we will.

Well, that's just wishful, utopian thinking. I suspect that the lobbyists who dictate government policy don't share my vision. We should just be thankful that our legislators are helping bring us better TV sound and pictures so we can all spend more time sitting passively in front of the tube. Heaven forbid that we turn off our TVs and do something useful, like build them.

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