I objected when Monday Night Football moved from over-the-air broadcast television to cable/satellite ESPN after 35 years on ABC. Making fans have to pay to see televised football is nothing short of un-American, I argued to no avail. I objected last year when the NFL channel kept exclusive rights to broadcast a Thursday night game only available on satellite, which you cannot receive if you do not have a southern exposure for a dish. The once public airwaves ceased to be public. What next, I thought: the public will have to pay to watch public television? I hate being right.
Congress mandated the conversion from analog to all-digital television broadcasting presumably because all-digital broadcasting would free up frequencies for public safety communications such as police, fire, and emergency rescue. The government says that DTV technology will allow broadcasters to offer “television with movie-quality picture and CD-quality sound.” In addition, the switch frees up valuable chunks of wireless spectrum for public safety and those airwaves can also be used for commercial wireless services, which are private interest.
When the legislation originally came up, television stations were supposed to broadcast analog and digital signal in parallel until 2017. The Bush administration dropped that stipulation and the FCC auctioned the airwave spectrum. The wireless biopoly of AT&T and Verizon Communications paid a collective $16 billion at the FCC auction. Back in 2005 when the Republican Congress passed the legislation requiring the conversion, they set February 19, 2009, as the conversion deadline.
However, a glitch occurred. According to the Nielsen Company more than 6.5 million homes are still unprepared to receive digital signals. The government said 1.4 million households are on a waiting list for an equipment subsidy which is financed by the FCC auction. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department, said it had hit the $1.34 billion funding limit set by Congress to pay for converter box coupons. In other words, the government subsidy for converter boxes ran out of money.