Friday, May 1, 2009

Is This A Cable Plot?

No one who owns a television can have missed the constant, constant reminders that televisions that can't receive digital signals and don't have cable or satellite service will require a converter box to enable those televisions to receive anything. Now it turns out that even having a converter box will not insure that televisions will receive all, or any, of the channels they used to receive. Unlike analog signals, digital signals can be blocked by buildings and hills, and have a much more limited range than analog signals. And because digital signals don't just fade out, as analog signals do, the snowy analog signal will become no signal at all with the digital conversion.

People who remember the making of the decision to change from analog to digital transmission will also remember that the change wasn't supposed to be made until 95% of the households with television had DTV-compatible sets. But Americans didn't go out and buy new televisions as quickly as planned--not everyone needs a 42-inch screen--so it was decided to impose conversion on us early. And we were offered converter boxes to get around the little problem that resulted from the failure of Americans to buy new televisions when the old one worked just fine.

The problem would have been even worse were it not for the fact that a lot of people have what's called "limited basic" cable--regular broadcast channels plus the community access stations--because even the analog reception wasn't very good. (We couldn't get the local NBC channel.) But the fact that people had cable or satellite service wasn't supposed to count as part of the 95%, and this means that people who have this service can't decide to get rid of it without getting a new television or a converter box.

And now that the date for conversion approaches, it turns out that there are other problems--big ones. First, digital transmission, in addition to the topographical limitations I mentioned above, doesn't have the range of analog signals. This means that if you're beyond the range of the signal, you're out of luck, even if you have a converter box or DTV. To get the same channels, you might have to purchase cable or satellite service. Second, many of the antennas will get some channels but not others. So the victims of this will either have to choose among their channels or move the antenna and then rescan the stations to get stations broadcasting from a different direction.

I cannot help thinking that this is a plot by cable providers to force us all to sign up for their overpriced service. (At least once a month I lose my service entirely for a few hours; I notice it because I get my Internet service from the cable company.)

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