As we all have been told by now, the US Federal Government has in its great wisdom finally decided that on-air free reception broadcast Television is taking up too much bandwidth, too much airspace in the electromagnetic spectrum. Each TV channel takes up six megahertz of bandwidth. Channels 2 through 13 operate in the VHF frequency spectrum, useful because it isn't quite as dependent on "line of sight" alignment between the receiving antenna and the transmitting antenna. VHF signals carry better than higher frequency signals so they carry farther into the rural areas from television stations that serve metropolitan areas.
Somebody pointed out to the Federal Government that it is now technologically possible to carry digital television signals using the same VHF spectrum but using a narrower channel width than the 6 megahertz analog channel width. God only knows how it's done but the decision to make this transition was made by Congress and the transition was planned for final implementation this month and next. Maine Public Television has been running infomercials about this transition and has been touting the benefits of purchasing either new television equipment with digital tuners or digital television adapter boxes that allowed older analog television equipment to receive a signal from digital transmitters.
To promote the transition, the Federal Government has been offering coupons worth $40.00 towards the purchase of digital converter boxes, two coupon per household. This program was intended to boost sales of digital TV tuner equipment in order to hasten production and bring down the purchase price of the equipment. The program succeeded and now the government is saying they have far more requests for coupons than they have coupons to give. It's almost like getting a moose permit in Maine. More people want to shoot moose than there are moose to be shot.
So anyway, being the lazy ass that I am, I didn't apply for a coupon. But yesterday I went out and bought a DTV converter box, a Zenith DTT 901. When I got home from Bangor I hooked it up. Channel 12 was playing at the time and the signal was good enough to watch. We are 80 miles or more from the transmitter and slightly behind the hill so it is challenging at times to get good reception, but last night the old analog signal reception was quite decent.
So I hooked everything up and had it so I could see the new tuner's menu system on the TV screen and I sent it into scan mode to find all the wonderful new digital TV signals in my area. Zero! Not a one! It's not that Bangor stations aren't broadcasting in digital either. They are and have been for quite awhile. It's that this glorious new rig needs a strong signal or else ZILCH! Nothing! No TV at all!!
This is the dirty little secret of the Digital TV revolution. It's not like nobody could foresee this happening. I used to be in the TV repair business and even had my own TV antenna sales and installation thing going for awhile. It's not like I didn't see this coming. In fact, I would have been pleasantly shocked had the new tuner actually worked!
But the thing is, to have made this transition work right, the government should have required that remote areas that have been served for decades by analog VHF broadcast television should be served by digital TV after the transition. The way to do it would either be for the government to supply satellite TV or for the new owners of this freed-up and auctioned off airspace to have been required to establish low-power repeater transmitters.
Instead of doing this, the Federal Government in its usual display of arrogance and indifference, chose to fail to inform the public of the problem and instead spread propaganda touting the wonderful benefits of digital TV. And everybody, including the "This Old House" professionals, went along with it. This problem of mine isn't a problem at all for the majority of broadcast television recipients. Or at least I would hope it isn't. Maybe it is. But it certainly is a problem for a minority of us who live in rural areas. We are the Digital Minority!
Looks like I'll be going without Public Television now unless I'm finally ready to shell out $30.00 or more each month for cable or satellite. Such a deal!
By the way, there is a movement underway now to delay the cutoff date for analog broadcast of high-power television signals. Some are becoming aware of the problems that have until now been swept under the rug. But I'll be very surprised if even the Democrats now in power have the resolve to fix these problems. Americans shouldn't be forced to spend, spend, and spend some more only to discover that you can't get there from here. Those who serve to profit from this change should be the ones making sure that nobody is left out in the dark.
And one more thing. Free broadcast television and radio has been a mainstay in American life for the best part of a century now. This idea that it should now become a source of profit for cable and satellite delivery companies is a Republican idea that should be resisted. There are millions of Americans who simply cannot afford subscription rates for cable and satellite TV. These are the Digital Minority that should not be given the cold shoulder by government.