Mandatory Digital Television. Is the Country Ready? It’s not like an HDTV Upgrade

So February 17. That is the day that the US Government has mandated the digital TV conversion. What does that mean? That means that our whole COUNTRY is supposed to stop using analog (regular) TV and start using digital TV. Do you even know what that means? Most people don’t. Most people in this country are not aware that their regular TV sets are going to stop working and that they are SUPPOSED to have digital TV sets in their house. Yeah right.

There are 300 million people in this country. The Neilsen’s people say there are about 112 milliion television households. The cable industry estimates that about 65 million households have cable. Let’s be generous and say 75 percent of the country has cable TV or Satellite TV or just don’t even watch TV. That leaves 28 million people. Ok let’s review; 300 million people called by the industry 112 households. By the way 99 percent of American households have one ore more TV sets. And that of course is how we need to look at this. 99 percent has one or more sets. I think we can say there are AT LEAST 300 million TV’s out there. My uncle is a pack rat. He has 200 sets. 200.

Now the Government has decided to issue Americans 40 dollar subsidy cards. 2 per household. These cards are supposed to ease the cost of the converter boxes (also known as Set Top Box) that will make your analog set able to handle the digital signal (if you were not either well off enough or prepared enough to buy a digital TV). Here’s the fun part. For some bizarre reason they were sending the cards to people BUT they had 90 day expiration dates. After that the cards were junk. AND you couldn’t apply for a new one. Hi! Welcome! How you doin’! My mother and uncle BOTH missed this deadline.

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Most people are just discovering this so now they’re a rush to get these cards, but because of the rush they’re running out. But THAT is the good news. The bad news. The REAL news is that most people don’t really “get” that this changeover is mandatory. It’s not a new feature that’s coming that you can choose not to use, like cable TV or touch tone phone instead of rotary. Your old TV set is not going to work. Now think about the average American. Not the college educated, city dwelling, young, hipster-but regular folks. Nebraska corndogs, Black or Hispanic bus drivers just barely staying above the poverty line, the TONS of old folks. The tons and tons of old folks. Are you thinking about them? Now what do you think the chances are they’re prepared for this? Realistically. How many?

I probably need to talk, at this point, a tiny bit about the technical issues. Check this out; those converter boxes? They don’t work with a lot of TV sets. Surprise! At this point I need to mention that I was an early adopter of High Definition Television. Yeah, well early-ish. I bought a 36 inch HDTV ready set about 5 years ago. So that meant I ALSO had to go out and buy a Set Top Box. An over the air receiver that would convert the digital signal for my HDTV (ready) set. In those days you had to pay EXTRA for the HDTV to have the converter included. Seems crazy now, but the price difference made it an easy decision back then.

And, are you ready for this, I ALSO had to go and buy an 8 foot antenna. That’s not how high it was, that’s how WIDE it was. It was about 10 feet high. And I lived in an apartment. So just for MYSELF. One guy. I had to install an antenna on a roof that I did not own. I had to convince my landlord to LET ME PUT HOLES in the roof and bolt this giant fucking thing on the roof. PLUS (you still there?) PLUS I had to go up there all the time to redirect the antenna. Oh did I mention that? Part of the JOYYYYYY of digital TV is just like in the 1950’s! you have to get your signal from the broadcast location. But unlike analog (regular) TV where not that much data has to reach you, and the system is pretty stable, DIGITAL TV SIGNAL is very erratic. If the wind blow, if it’s overcast, if it’s raining, if there is too much electrical energy in the atmosphere you’re not going to get a good signal. ANNNND if you don’t have a great view of your local broadcaster’s antenna good luck. If a bunch of buildings or trees or mountains are in your line of view you MIGHT not get a signal. And if you live your place that’s encased in thick concrete like a condo; good luck again, it’s going to be tough to get a good signal.