Tuesday, January 27, 2009

DTV: Transition of Power

As ratified by a Senate vote last night, lawmakers have voted to delay the television transition to a digital signal until June 12th of this year. However, the almost invisible transition of power behind the screen will continue unabated.

The government mandated switch will forever finish the steady-air signal that has been a fixture of American life for sixty years. The TV airwaves have been a regulated feature available for those with television since the "TV Freeze" for standardizing frequencies ended in 1952.

While the Federal Communications Commission and the Association of Broadcasters lauds the transition as a vast improvement in signal and picture quality, little difference can be noted. The main contrast is that the broadcasted signal is digital rather than sent through the ether of Earth's electromagnetic waves. However, what will be left of the former airwaves?

Here comes the real reason for the switch. These frequencies on airwaves, an asset of the American public were sold by the FCC to unspecified private telecom companies as well as many public and private police and security agencies. According to The News Hour, the sales garnered well over $50 billion for the government.

But when was the public ever consulted? The television is now outsourced to create a massive and fail-proof cross-communication system. It is undoubtedly a dubious proposition, especially considering the more recent revelations about domestic surveillance. Proponents of DTV argue that the switch properly allows for the TV spectrum to be handed over to more essential police communications. It is claimed that their ownership of the spectrum will improve security operations following the September 11th terrorist attacks.

A similar coup occured 90 years prior in telecommunications. In the 1910s, at the height of the amateur radio operator, (when two-way communication existed over air), U.S. military communication errors in the Atlantic was used as an impetus to ban amteur use of frequencies. Later, when the Federal Radio Act passed in 1927, the spectrum of radio waves were sold and commercialized by the newly created Federal Radio Commission and the golden age of radio was forever lost.

The American people were shortchanged in that transition and by all looks of it, are about to lose another crucial public resource. But then again, did we ever have much of it at all?

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