Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Left Out of the Digital Switchover

February 17, 2009. That's really not that far off when you stop and think about it.

That's the date of the nation's impending digital switchover from the analog television broadcast signal. Put simply, if you don't have a digital-ready television, or cable box capable of receiving the digital signal, by next February 17th, you will no longer have access to television broadcasts. Period.

Because the activities of the FCC are often layered in term-laden, technical complexity, many people don't realize that the 700MHz frequency spectrum on which television signals have been broadcast for years, was auctioned off by the government for $19.6 billion earlier this year; a consortium of large carriers and hi-tech companies bought it. It will be used in part to handle the massive increase in mobile bandwidth needs.

I blogged about the digital switch here on culturegeist back on July 10th.

I certainly see numerous television commercials and informational Websites sponsored by the cable companies to advertise government-backed coupons that offset consumer's purchases of the now-necessary digital converter boxes. The animated figure (pictured above) is part of the United Kingdom's ad campaign for their switchover.

What I don't see is a whole lot of mainstream media examination of this fractionally small, but none the less important omission from the digital switchover. It's not going to come as a shocker but the numbers of people who will be without television access are poor and I'd guess slanted towards the more rural areas of the country. They'll come from all races and nationalities.

For me the potential cultural concern is that Hispanics and African-Americans will be left out of the television equation in disproportionate numbers.

What's that going to mean to people? Can sociologists gauge the impact of people in the US with little or no access to TV?

Some might argue they'll be better off but Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood - these public television programs were very important to me as a Gen X kid raised in the burbs in the 70's and 80's. Should you have to pay each month to see TV?

Our desire and need to consume larger amounts of data and media content how, when and where we want and over multiple devices is one of the major drivers of the digital switchover.

But for all the 'enlightened' ways in which we consume media, don't we collectively have some degree of moral obligation to ensure that the information and educational gaps that underline the wealth disparities in the US not divide free access to local news and entertainment along the lines of the ability to purchase new technology and pay high monthly cable fees?

Don't the people of all races and backgrounds living on the fringes of the US economic spectrum deserve to plug in their old rabbit ear black and white and be able to watch something?

After February 17, 2009 not so much.

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