Today, June 12, 2009, is the last day that full-power television broadcasters in the United States can broadcast in analog signals. By the end of the day, all stations will be broadcasting in digital only. This means that anyone who has an older-model, non-cable television, will no longer be able to watch TV. After today, they will be able to do so only by purchasing a new TV able to receive cable channels, or by purchasing a special converter box and hooking it up to their older model TV.
Has this process occured because the market dictated such a change, based on cost-benefit analysis or consumer demand? No. This happened simply because the federal government mandated that it take place. In the same way that the government now dictates such heretofore private matters as what kind of toilet to have in your home and what kind of light bulbs you can use, Uncle Sam has now told you what kind of TV you can have.
This all came about because a Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation in 2005 mandating that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order all full-power TV stations to cease broadcasting in analog by February 18th this year (later extended to June 12th). Of course, a Republican President (George W. Bush) signed the measure into law . . . and here we are.
The 2005 law also sets out a ridiculous — and costly — program whereby the government will dole out coupons to requesting households (worth $40 each; limit two per household) which consumers can then use to defray the cost of purchasing the converter units. Of the more than $2 billion in direct costs of this program, the Treasury Department is authorized to spend $160 million of our tax dollars just to “administer” the coupon program.
As we all know, the former, Bush administration moved on to much larger efforts to control the economy, culminating in last fall’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). With the Republicans having put together such costly and intrusive mandates as these, from which the new, Democratic administration can draw lessons and use as precedent, it should surprise no one that the Barack Obama Administration is now itself dictating and controlling markets (e.g., Chrysler and GM).
With the Republicans and the Democrats, it’s just a matter of the degree of control; not whether to control.