Analog TV Switch Is Yet Another Federal Mandate

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.

80 comments Add your comment


June 12th, 2009
12:39 pm

The time has come for the Fed’s to get out of the media business. All television and radio stations should now own their licenses with no more government red tape about fairness, equal employment, minority broadcasters, etc.

Michael H. Smith

June 12th, 2009
12:43 pm


That means in some cases, where this applies, a costly rotary antenna, allowing for “good” local ionospheric conditions and low electrical noise in your area.

Digital signals need a relay network to boost their strengths in outlaying areas of less than opium conditions.


June 12th, 2009
12:45 pm

The rest of the info about this conversion — it frees up a bandwidth on the spectrum that will be used, as I remember it, to allow other entrepreneurial uses, with some of it devoted to local police and other public protection uses. It also upgrades and modernizes broadcasting — converting to digital was inevitable, and it’s always cheaper when you do it earlier. No one could choose to upgrade, as long as all the equipment was incompatible with the upgrade.

Seems like a good decision to me, and reasonably well handled.


June 12th, 2009
12:55 pm

I really don’t see this as a problem. The government mandated the switch-over for April, and then, when it appeared not enough people were prepared, they moved it to June. Almost all analog formats in current use were standardized between the 1940s and 1950s and have had to be adapted to the technological innovations since then. Initially offering only black and white images with monophonic sound, the formats have had to modified to broadcast in color, stereo sound, SAP, captioning, and other information all while being backwards compatible with televisions unable use the features. Additionally, engineers have had to implement these protocols within the limits of a set bandwidth and the tolerances of an inefficient analog format.

However during this time, the application and distribution of digital communications evolved and proved to be a superior means to distribute the same content. A Digital television transmission is more efficient, easily integrating other digital processes, for features completely unavailable or unimaginable with analog formats.

For the end-user, digital television has potential for resolutions and sound fidelity comparable with blu-ray home video and with digital multiplexing, it is also possible to offer subchannels, distinct simulcast programming, from the same broadcaster.

For government and industry, digital television reallocates the radio spectrum so that can be auctioned off by the government. In the subsequent auctions, Telecommunications industries can introduce new services and products in mobile telephony, wi-fi internet, and other nationwide telecommunications projects.

JF McNamara

June 12th, 2009
12:55 pm

There are only a few users of analog and we need the spectrum back for other uses. Someone has to control the spectrum otherwise none of our stuff will workdue to interference. That’s not intrusion. It’s sound thinking.

Secondly, I don’t think the TV companies were mad about no longer broadcasting analog. It was an old, costly, underused system.

Finally, they DID a cost benefit analysis and it said that there was low usage of analog and the spectrum would best be used elsewhere.

The goverment did citizens a huge favor by giving out those coupons. They could’ve just taken the spectrum back and told those on analog to kick rocks like industry normally does. That’s how the industry did with 8 tracks, cassette, tapes, VHS, and Beta. If you had one of those players, you were just out of luck because the cost benefit analysis said stop making them.

First time I’ve disagreed with you in a while, Mr. Barr, but this needed more thought.


June 12th, 2009
12:58 pm

By the way, I’d like to thank Wikipedia for most of the content of my post.


June 12th, 2009
1:00 pm

DTV transition…whats that?


June 12th, 2009
1:03 pm

Soulfinger, DTV transition is the transition from an analog, over-air television signal to a digital-over-air television signal.

Michael H. Smith

June 12th, 2009
1:07 pm

I think your main argument Bob Barr….

With the Republicans and the Democrats, it’s just a matter of the degree of control; not whether to control.

…has been lost to the separate argument of DTV.

No doubt digital is better. More government control is worse.


June 12th, 2009
1:07 pm

You want government in your lives when it comes to building quality schools, roads, bridges, sewers, , FAA / air traffic control, military protection, police/fire/ambulance, and national parks, but the split second that government does something (anything) you disagree with, you bolt.

Unfortunately, since more Americans than not were never taught responsibility or common sense, it’s up to government to protect those of us who know better from those of you who don’t. Rules, regulations, and requirements are necessary to keep things going.

So… until we privitize all schools, all roads, the military, and so on – government must remain involved.

Brad Steel

June 12th, 2009
1:12 pm

Bob, lay off the free market kool-aid for while. rules and structure in the market -typically imposed by the government – have a legitimate and important function in free markets.

there are many examples of government rules and standards enhancing free markets and competition. as an example, it was Finland’s (Finland for god’s sake) government-mandated cell phone standards that gave Nokia its dominate role in the world’s cell phone market.

with better government assistance in the US’s telecom markets, maybe Nokia would be a US-based company.

Michael H. Smith

June 12th, 2009
1:15 pm

Government involved yes, in total control no. The founders got it right years ago on concentrated power. We have allowed two political parties to get it wrong by concentrating power in government. The only place power should ever be allowed to be concentrated rightly is in the hands of we the people.

David S

June 12th, 2009
1:20 pm

What is wrong with this country is clearly on display in most of the comments written here. There is such a clear lack of understanding of the workings of the free market that even the corruption of the bandwidth through government control is not even discussed. Bob is correct on this in that a truly free market would have moved to address the advancement of technology and the need for additional bandwidth is a manner that respected freedom, choice, and property rights. One need only look at a summary of the existing bandwidths and who controlls them to see that there is clearly no free market in wavelength usage nor any property rights either. As with so much of america, the federal government controls most of the airwaves.

Should we go digital? Was there an alternative approach? We will never know, but you who are all too ignorant – and don’t seem to want to change that situation – are all too willing to cede your rights and your freedom, so long as the picture quality of the big game is enhanced.

Yes, the situation is what it is today, with massive regulation and control. But until and unless we acknowledge this and speak out and vote against it, it will only increase in scope and power. Occasionally the government produces and end result that most agree with. A broken watch is also right twice a day. But the ends do not justify the means – ever – especially when the subjugation of freedom and property rights are concerned. and if you are actually interested in getting educated about the free market and alternatives to subjugation.


June 12th, 2009
1:23 pm

Did you see how much that spectrum sold for? They could give a $40 coupon to everyone in the United States and still come out $8B ahead.

Chris Broe

June 12th, 2009
1:25 pm

Today’s Find 5 Puzzle: Find Five diff’s between any of Bob Barr’s blogs and any of Wooten’s. They’re both trying to find some sort of variation on the old anti-big government, off the big brother, I’m here to help the little guy against the MAN crap that belongs in the novel they ripped off the idea from. Anybody else sick of hacks? (1). Ex CIA. (2).Libertian Party. (3) Sellouts, one for politics, the other for the lost cause. (4) different barbers (5) aw, this bit stinks, too bad I can’t unclick this. If only there was some way to retrieve a hopeless bit…..maybe if the ajc switches to an all digital troll format.

Okay, palindromes. You can’t have a palindrome without it also being an anagram. Imagine a woman named margaret who is nick-named “Marg”…….then you get, “Marg, an anagram”. (both a palindrome and an anagram.) Well, it’s actually a palindrome with anagrams in it. Start with anagrams, and then you can write palindromes all day long, (if you’re blog-simple like me).

When I turned 36, I realized I had outlived Mozart (35). Now that I’m 58, I just realized that I’ve outlived Hitler. (56)

Political Truth: The USA went sour when America abandoned Curly. The 3 stooges in digital wont be nearly as funny. and who want’s to see Aunt Bea in 1080p?

I had my first blind date in thirty years. We went to a movie. The movie was terrible, and my date blamed me. “Take me home”, she blurted in the car, “The 3 camera technique in the second reel was totally out of sync with the dramatic tension that was supposed to be there but wasn’t. How does that director get any money at all? Take….me….home”

But what about dinner?

“Sure, I’m still having dinner with you, sure… You’re still talking? Drive…me…home.”

Another problem with blind dates: Notice how woman who belly-ache about their biological clock never have an hour-glass figure? This woman wore those old shoulder-paddings underneath her blouse, like she hadn’t bought any clothes since 1986. Remember the shoulder pads in woman’s clothes? What look was she going for? Overweight usher? When I first rang her doorbell, she answered the door holding a flashlight and showed me to my seat in her living room. It’s been so long since I’ve seen shoulder pads that at first I thought she worked out, and was buff, and then I made the logical leap that she could probably kill her own spiders, being such a badass and all, but of course five minutes didn’t go by before she screamed and I had to rush into her bathroom and newspaper-swat a brown recluse.

It’s been 90 days since my wife died, and I miss the lipstick on the straw at the movies. (We used to share a coke to save money).



June 12th, 2009
1:54 pm

Bob is leaving out a key part in his criticism of the government-issued coupons for converter boxes. The spectrum currently being occupied by analog television broadcasts was auctioned off to wireless communications providers for BILLIONS in license revenue. In reality, they are not funding this with tax dollars, as it is more than offset by the license revenue.

As for this being a government mandate, I am not a fan of such moves by government. However, spectrum is a limited resource and there is a great market demand for wireless communications services. The analog spectrum is being repurposed for this use. Because the use of RF spectrum cannot be a “wild west” if it is to work, there must be a “referee” to assure that this limited resource is allocated fairly. To compare it to toilets in your home is completely inaccurate. Had there not been some impetus for this transition, we would still be broadcasting television on antiquated technology while impeding the growth of very highly demanded wireless communcations for years to come.

Bob is off base on this one.

Michael H. Smith

June 12th, 2009
1:57 pm

Did you see how much that spectrum sold for? They could give a $40 coupon to everyone in the United States and still come out $8B ahead.

Okay, who paid that $8 billion that we supposedly came out ahead on this coupon deal? The TV stations, Broadcasters and where will they get that $8 billion to pay the fees for that purchased spectrum?

Eventually we the taxpaying consumers pay for everything and we don’t usually come out ahead on the money making end of the deals. :(


June 12th, 2009
1:57 pm

“The government reaped $19.6 billion last year by selling some of the freed-up frequencies.” (Source: WSB-TV and the Associated Press) Spend $3 billion, make $20 billion. This switch is netting the taxpayer 7 dollars for every one spent on converters.

Michael H. Smith

June 12th, 2009
2:03 pm

The converter boxes are one small part of the total price we’ll pay. The so-called $20 billion made will come from where? From our pockets when we buy the products or services the broadcasters advertise.


June 12th, 2009
2:22 pm

Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?


June 12th, 2009
4:03 pm

Bob “Impeachment” Barr continues to spew his ignorance to any place that will print his tripe. First, this transition was set up long before 2005 when broadcasters wanted to use better quality equipment but were limited to the analog bandwidth. So they got a law passed that reallocated the broadcast spectrum so they would get a big chunk of the higher bandwidth for increased content and quality. The old analog bandwidth would go to emergency services who were restricted into a few frequencies that were now overloaded. So what if people had to buy a new TV or some converter box. The $40 was a compromise between the Republicans wanting to doing nothing (no surprise there) and the Democrats giving them away to the poor and elderly. I don’t really understand the whole point of Barr’s screed except to whip up some anti-government hysteria. Which in Georgia, were going backward is viewed as progress, that’s a no brainer.

fc jackson

June 12th, 2009
4:13 pm

“The old analog bandwidth would go to emergency services who were restricted into a few frequencies that were now overloaded. So what if people had to buy a new TV or some converter box. The $40 was a compromise between the Republicans wanting to doing nothing (no surprise there) and the Democrats giving them away to the poor and elderly. I don’t really understand the whole point of Barr’s screed except to whip up some anti-government hysteria. Which in Georgia, were going backward is viewed as progress, that’s a no brainer.”

1. Why not give the emergency bands in such “need” of improvement the digital, better, broadcasting waves, if it is infact for public safety?
2. If its no problem to just buy a converter box, buy me one.
3. With the SSI Ponzi scheme and 2 wars draining the US treasury, not to mention TARP, why should I pay for instant rebates?
4. History judges society on the treatment of the elderly, underage, and disabled(amongst other factors).

Michael H. Smith

June 12th, 2009
4:29 pm

The government didn’t give anything to anybody. The government confiscates and redistributes. Under Obumer and the Democrats now in control “our government” the Federal government will do alot more of both and use the poor, the elderly, even those in the so-called middle as an excuse to grab more power and control over everything while the Republicans stand in jealous envy.

Next great Obumer government power grab: Healthcare.


June 12th, 2009
5:35 pm

This is no different than if the government were to mandate a change on what system of measurement was put on traffic signs. The content is the same, you’re just getting upset over something trivial. Government is no more intrusive because of this than they were before.

Obama, Even WORSE than Bush....

June 12th, 2009
6:56 pm

Mr. Barr, you are, unfortunately, way more correct about the two parties true location on the political spectrum than most of us would like you to be. The Republican Party should change its name to “The LIBERAL/SOCIALIST Party” with its propensity to issue numerous government mandates and borrow and spend money we don’t have (No Child Left Behind, Digital Switchover, Bank Bailouts, etc.) and the Democrat Party should change its name to the “COMMUNIST Party” with its extreme desire to tax (and borrow and spend even more!) the American Economy out of existance (cap and trade, fuel taxes, government-mandated health care, etc). While Bush and the RepubliCONS lowered taxes and raised spending (and borrowing) to unseen before levels creating huge deficits, Obama and the Democraps are ratcheting up government controls, intrusion and spending to UNIMAGINABLE levels (unless you’re in China or the old U.S.S.R.) never meeting a TAX that they didn’t want to impose on the already tapped out U.S. Economy, making Bush look like a thrifty penny-pinching libertarian, which he was NOT by any means. If you recall, it was government control and lack of CAPITAL and FREE MARKET activity which led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. The Soviets had no free market to generate tax revenue so they in effect went bankrupt. Obama and the ‘Craps are adding that philsophy to massive amounts of borrowing and printing money (which will lead to massive inflation) to lead us down the same, if not a worse, road. Is it too early for a PRESIDENTIAL RECALL?

the evil rich

June 12th, 2009
7:51 pm

Big deal, the outrage should be the delay in implementing this!

GodHatesTrash, Superstar

June 14th, 2009
9:59 am

Bob, you could take the shields off an arc welder and ruin radio and TV reception for a couple of square miles. I could put together a 10,000 watt white-noise transmitter that would make TV and radio reception impossible for the city of Atlanta and the ‘burbs for around $150K. But the FCC won’t let me do that though, without fining the hell out of me, and if I do it again, putting me in jail. Where’s the freedom in that?

It’s always funny to me to hear the neo-cons on TV and radio hating on gummint, when it is the electro-magnetic spectrum – the most government-regulated part of our lives – that makes their broadcasts possible.

They raised the capacity of the airwaves for data and information transmission a million-fold or more by going to digital, and raised some $ doing it. Good.

Eric (other)

June 14th, 2009
1:04 pm

Fine article once again, Mr. Barr! I completely agree with your observations. Thanks.

Chris Broe

June 16th, 2009
12:05 pm

Bob Barr is….RIGHT!! The problem is arbitrary government legislation: The congress passed the 1.6 gallon per flush law in 1988. This was the year that Charmins introduced the triple roll, and Kellogs started putting two scoops of raisins in their bran. 1988 is when baby boomers became convinced enmasse of the importance of fiber in the diet.

I cant use no toy commode. I need miles of pipes, teams of plumbers working around the clock at the teamster level in New Jersey, huge underground caverns, and a good flash flood once in a while!!!

this bit will turbo flush in five seconds…..


June 21st, 2009
11:33 am

I live in a rural area and used to get a whopping 7 channels! I bought a “converter” at my expense with a discount coupon. I had to get a new antenna at my expense and now I get a whopping no, notta, none stations. Oh someone forgot to tell me that the signal of the new age isn’t as powerful as the old one, just great. Thank God I didn’t go out and purchase a digital television for several thousand dollars!!