Saturday, May 24, 2008

Digital Disaster

As many of you know, all television must, by law, be broadcast in digital by 2009. I think this is a dumb law - why outlaw analog TV? - but I don't understand the reasoning behind it. Was it a giveaway to cable companies and DTV manufacturers? Is there a scientific/economic reason for the ban? What's going on? I throw the question to you, dear readers - any ideas on why this is happening?


Pierce said...

The electromagnetic spectrum is limited, and so the government has a vested interest in managing it in a way that serves the American consumers' best interests. Analog broadcasting, as it exists right now, is a mindbogglingly wasteful use of the spectrum. Making broadcasters switch to digital will offer more content and better quality and still leave us with more spectrum free to use for other purposes.

That's my understanding, anyway.

-Dave said...

What he said - that's my understanding of the justification for it, at least. Whether the makers of digital TVs were drooling over the prospect is another matter altogether.

The primary hardship for people won't be needing to get a set-top converter box. I Think it will be that digital doesn't degrade gracefully over long distances. You get it clear, you might get it choppy, but most likely outlying areas that currently get snowy signals (or those in mountainous areas) just won't get as many channels.

Mike said...

I see the "wasteful use" argument, but I can't believe things aren't heading this way anyway. As Pierce says, you get "more content and better quality", which suggests to me that most television stations would want to switch to digital anyway. So why did the government need to get involved?

-Dave said...

Probably because (my guess) FCC regulations explicitly prohibited use of the spectrum which is currently absorbed by analog TV signals.

Therefore, if the government wanted to free that spectrum up (as it did, to both auction off and to use for emergency responders), it required explicitly changing the rule and preventing outright the use of that spectrum by TV broadcasts.

Mike said...

Or we could abolish the FCC, which is an idea I have supported for many years.

Barzelay said...

I followed these debates when they occurred in the late 90's. Originally, there was a much earlier date for all stations to be broadcasting digitally (2003, or something like that). They have extended the deadline several times.

The justification is that TV stations weren't switching on their own. Digital gives the consumer a better picture, and potentially more channels.

For TV stations, it wasn't profitable to spend money upgrading every single piece of equipment they used, when no one had the televisions to accept digital signals anyway. And no one would buy the televisions unless channels were broadcasting digitally. Consumers wanted a better picture and more channels. Stations didn't care either way but didn't want to spend money upgrading if no one could take advantage. Electronics companies were innovating, but weren't able to sell their stuff.

That stalemate prompted the government to mandate the move to digital for the stations (since they couldn't mandate that everyone buy digital televisions). Yes, it definitely benefited the device manufacturers, but it squarely a consumer-focused law at the time.

At least that's my understanding.