Troubled Airwaves, No More Cheap TVs

I don’t know what percentage of people get their TV programming OTA (Over The Air; i.e. direct via antenna), rather than via cable or satellite.  But I suspect that in terms of absolute numbers the number of TV’s out there that are hooked up to rabbit-ears or external antennas is fairly sizable. 

While most of my viewing is done on one of the TVs that are connected via FiOS, I also have a small one mounted on the wall in the kitchen that I use to watch the morning news (and sometimes the noon news).  I never bothered to have it hooked up to cable, but instead just use rabbit ears.  The only stations that come in very well are the local Fox and ABC channels (4 and 8), but that’s generally sufficient for my news fix.

Unfortunately, this TV is not going to be able to receive any OTA broadcasts after 2/17/09 because of the transition from analog to digital.  The options appear to be to get a digital converter box or to get a new TV with an ATSC tuner.  There is a government program to offer each household up to two $40-off coupons good towards the purchase of converter boxes.  However, there are not many converter boxes available yet, and ones eligible for the program won’t be available until February or early March, so I don’t know whether this coupon will be worth the trouble or not.  Heck, the TV itself only cost me $59, so it seems silly to spend very much on a converter for it.

On the other hand, searching for small TVs with ATSC tuners turns out to be an expensive proposition.  All of the small digital TVs appear to be flat-screen (generally LCD), and these tend to start around $200, which is more than I want to spend for a TV in the kitchen. 

There is one other alternative I’m considering: a wireless audio/video remote “extender”, connected to the FiOS box in the living room.  This would allow me to view all of the cable channels on the existing TV as long as I didn’t try to tune to any HD channels.  In addition to skipping the converter box, it would also improve the picture quality over the rabbit ears (or it should).  There are even units that include a remote-control IR channel (the receiver at the TV end includes an IR receiver/transmitter that sends the signal back to the “sender” at the converter box end, so you can control the remote converter box from the local TV).  The big problem, though, is that most of these are 2.4GHz, so it will be difficult to find one that won’t step on my wireless network.

Hmm…  here’s a unit that operates at 5.8GHz.  Unfortunately, it’s $250.  For that kind of money I could get an LCD TV.

Anyhow, this also brings up some interesting political/philosophical issues.  From a libertarian standpoint, the government shouldn’t be handing out “our” money for these sorts of things.  Actually, if you follow the logic, the government shouldn’t be mandating the digital transition.  If it was a good idea, and profitable, the market would sort it out. 

Also from a libertarian standpoint, if you realize that the program exists and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it, do you then try to take advantage of it?  Do you rationalize it as trying to get a small refund on the thousands of dollars of taxes you’ve already paid?  Or is the principled stand to refuse to participate?


  1. queuno says:

    Suppose I own a Chinese restaurant that uses forks.  95% of the city eats here.  I announce that in 3 years, I’m moving to chopsticks, and I tell people that they will need to buy chopsticks if they want to eat at my restaurant.

    Three years later, only half of the city has bought my chopsticks.  What do I do?

    Let’s also say my restaurant contributes to 2% of the city tax base and no one wants to see it close.  For whatever reason, I’m also the most nutritious restaurant in town, and practically an essential presence in town.  There are people who *only* eat at my restaurant.

    (Hey, this is fiction.)

    One approach would be, since my customers have basically decided to wait me out, is to partner with the city to just provide everyone with chopsticks.

    I don’t think it’s a perfect analogy, but I think you hit a point with business and government where the government decides its a prudent strategy to intervene and help the business.  (Both democrats and republicans favor this at different times, depending on the business involved).

    As far as the libertarian philosophy goes, in my fictional example, the libertarians would question whether its appropriate for the city to help buy my customers chopsticks.  At the same time, there wouldn’t likely be more than one libertarian, if any on the city council.

  2. True, there won’t be many libertarians on the council. 

    So to carry on with your analogy, I think then the relevant question would be that if I were a customer should I take the “free” chopsticks, or buy them on my own on general principles?  The rationalization for taking the “free” ones would be that I’ve *already* paid, since they’re coming out of my taxes, and being an ignored minority, I have no chance of stopping the boondoggle.