About a week ago, my brother sent me a link to George F. Will's column in the Sacramento Bee. The Bee entitled this column "A Digital TV in Every Pot?", whereas George Will's home newspaper, the Washington Post, gave the column the title of "The Inalienable Right to a Remote".

Regardless of the title, Will has hit the nail on the head with this one. The United States Senate passed the "Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005" (Senate Bill 1932, Title III). In addition to setting a hard deadline for the United States to transition from analog to digital television, the Senate provides that no consumer be left behind:

(1) $3,000,000,000 for a program to assist consumers in the purchase of converter boxes that convert a digital television signal to an analog television signal, and any amounts unexpended or unobligated at the conclusion of the program shall be used for the program described in paragraph (3).

Yes, that's nine zeroes after that 3: 3 Billion dollars to pay for consumer's set top boxes to convert digital television signals to analog so their old televisions will continue to show the programming they watch. The Senate is mandating the release of the current parts of the wireless spectrum used for analog television, and these parts of the spectrum will be used for public safety functions (communications for firefighters and law enforcement) and auctioned off to businesses to provide wireless services. According to the bill: the Senate expects 4.9 Billion dollars (US$4,900,000,000) to be raised by this auction. I have two problems with this:

  1. What if the auction raises less than expected? Are we going to deficit spend to buy set-top converter boxes?
  2. Why not use this for a better purpose? Nutritionists tell us the country as a whole (and I am included in this) is suffering an epidemic of obesity. The television definitely contributes to this (how many people do you know ride a bike or walk a treadmill to generate the electricity for their television?). If you want to keep the money in communications that benefits the public, why not buy Public Alert Radios (or the equivalent that will work with paragraph (3) of the bill1. The use of the funds for Public Alert Radios could prevent deaths in incidents like the tornadoes that hit Kentucky and Indiana last month and would be in better alignment with the Public Safety aspect of the bill's title.

While I agree with George Will that television is not a right (if we're wrong, please feel free to give me the Constitutional reference2), I do take issue with one part of his criticism of the Senate (and related House) actions. George Will states that "Today a digital-capable set with a flat-screen display can be purchased from -- liberals, please pardon the mention of your Great Satan -- Wal-Mart for less than $460." A digital television for less than $460? Flat Panel, too? I decided to check it out, but I could not find a flat-panel television with an ATSC tuner for under $460.

To close, let's ask the Senate and the House to be more responsible with our money. While we might receive a good amount from the auction of the analog television portion of the spectrum, let's not spend it before it is received, and let's not spend it on entitling Americans to television.


  1. (3) $1,250,000,000 for a program to facilitate emergency communications, of which $1,000,000,000 shall be used for an interoperability fund and $250,000,000 shall be used to implement a national alert system, of which $50,000,000 shall be used for tsunami warning and coastal vulnerability programs.
  2. See also the Bill of Rights and Amendments 11-27.

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Cross-posted to the Brothers Blog.