I find myself in the oddest position: agreeing with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Marie-Antoinette.
Broadcasters and public interest groups are urging a delay to the February 17 deadline for TV stations to turn off their analog signals forever. They’ve been joined by the incoming Obama administration in asking Congress to push back The Big Switch to June.
Former FCC Chairman William Kennard and Michael Powell opine in the New York Times that the government has bungled the coupon program and will leave millions of sets TV-less lurch on February 17. There’s more demand for boxes than hardware to go around and a backlog of coupon requests that can’t be fulfilled.
FCC Chairman Martin says that consumers will be ill-served by a delay, because it will create more confusion — not less.
Finally, let’s get to Marie. Historians say that it’s unlikely that Marie-Antoinette ever said “let them eat cake.” But no matter — she probably would have said it if she could. And if she was alive and able to take a cold-hearted position on the digital TV transition, I have no doubt she would agree with Kevin Martin. And me.
Watching TV is an unalienable American right. Our founding fathers embodied this belief in the Declaration of Independence, when they wrote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…including access to at least three over-the-air network affiliates in each DMA, with ample ratings-generating content, including sports fare on the weekends and news-lite programming at six and eleven, as well as specially titilating content during the months of November, Feburary, May, and to a lesser degree, July.
Part of this text was inserted to defy King George, and his imposition of the UK’s distasteful annual TV License fees. But I digress.
Nielsen says a little less than seven percent of TV Households in the US are unprepared. Among Spanish speaking households, that jumps to almost 12 percent. Albuquerque, Tulsa and Houston are among the most unprepared places, digitially speaking: 12-13 percent of the homes in these markets say they aren’t ready for Feb 17th.
About five percent of people 55 and older haven’t gotten the message, either.
But I have to ask: where have these people been the past year? Broadcasters have been flooding the airwaves with announcements over the last six months. Millions have been spent in the effort to get the word out. Millions more have been spent on the coupon program for digital converters. If they digitally-clueless haven’t gotten the message until now, what makes us think that a few more months will make a difference?
Yes, it’s going to be a train wreck. People will be angry and confused. And the poorest, the oldest and those who find navigating government and technology are going to be hurt the most. But where does it say that over-the-air TV is a right for everyone?
It’s going to be ugly. But it will finally get people, who haven’t been paying attention up until now, to pay attention.
I say it’s time to bring it on. It’s going to hurt sooner or later. Let’s make it sooner and get this over with ASAP.
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