Converter Box Blues

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The October 11th issue of the Wall Street Journal ran a page B5 story headed “Cashing In on TV Switch.” It discussed the forthcoming change from analog to digital television which has been mandated by the federal government, slated for February 17th, 2009. I’ll just mention in passing the fascistic meddling of the feds (who obviously have no business dictating to TV makers and broadcasters what types of transmissions they must make), because there is an even more repulsive aspect to the government’s involvement.

According to the WSJ piece, there may be as many as 69 million TV sets that will become useless once the federal edict goes into effect. So, to make sure that people with antiquated analog sets can still use their TVs, converter boxes will be produced which will go on sale in January, 2008. These devices are expected to cost consumers around $50 to $70 each, according to the article.

The piece suggests that this government program should be a boon to old household names RCA and Zenith, which is nice for them, I suppose, although it quotes RCA’s Vice-President of Government Affairs(!) as saying that “this has to be the most regulated product… ever in the history of electronics.” Be careful what you wish for, RCA and Zenith.

Big deal, you say, what’s wrong with the TV industry producing such converter boxes? They’ll keep things running smoothly, and consumers will save money by not being forced to buy new televisions. The answer is nothing — except that the federal government has “set aside $1.5 billion to subsidize” these devices!

That’s right, folks, you and I and all the other members of our “voluntary tax system” will be subsidizing millions of “poverty-stricken” couch potatoes with $40 coupons. According to the WSJ, the government will be printing up 33.75 million coupons for just this noble purpose. If you do the math, that comes to $1.35 billion. Apparently the remaining $.15 billion will cover the costs of printing and administering the program. No word on how the coupons will be distributed, but if I can get one I will, and toss it right into the trash, thus saving $40 in potential government waste. Since my own TV is 14 years old, I suppose I’ll be eligible for a coupon. (Hey, it still works.)

Think about it for a minute — the federal government is subsidizing the entertainment industry, specifically television. Wait! — I thought the function of government was to protect our liberties, so why on Earth is this a government priority? Apparently our rulers like the idea of its subjects sitting passively and having their minds numbed viewing idiotic nonsense and pro-consumption commercials. (By the way, have you noticed that practically every commercial has an irritating, yet hypnotic, music track underneath its inane dialogue?)

Our leaders crassly assume that people who own older TV sets can’t afford to pay $70 for a converter box — a crisis requiring government intervention. What could be more ludicrous? Sorry, if you can’t afford the $70 you shouldn’t be wasting your time watching television in the first place, since you cannot afford free time. You need to be spending more time earning money or expanding your job skills. You don’t deserve a $40 handout from me or anyone else so you can remain glued to the idiot box, or as author Harlan Ellison more aptly referred to it, the glass teat.

The article doesn’t say which government agency has actually “set aside” the money, so I assume it was either Congress or the FCC. In any case, I can almost see the bureaucrats running around like psychotic parrots: “Millions of people won’t be able to watch CSI! It’s the end of the universe! What’ll we do? We must make sure they can watch their reality shows, or there will be chaos! Awk, awk!”

The WSJ says nothing about the source of the subsidy money. Like the so-called economists who regularly appear on TV, it doesn’t mention that the funds for this, and every other government expenditure, must come from taxing, borrowing or money-printing. Nothing is ever said by the pseudo-pundits about this problematic fact, nothing except “your friendly government is paying.” What a pitiful and repellent quid pro quo — government subsidizes (and licenses) the TV industry, while the TV industry, without a shred of critical thought, subsidizes government by uncritically embracing its profligate spending.

October 16, 2007

Andrew S. Fischer has worked in various fields.

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