Hazlett in Financial Times: Analog Switchoff a Big Yawn

The much-awaited cessation of analog signals in television broadcasting occurred last month with nary a ripple, evidence that is is time to "hand broadcasters their channel slots on satellite and cable systems, and let valuable TV air waves go to the mobile voice and broadband services that 21st Century America lusts for," says Professor Thomas W. Hazlett.

In an op-ed appearing in the Financial Times, Hazlett points out that one hundred million households have elected to pay for satellite or cable television in lieu of no-cost broadcast delivery of programming, and over 90% of television viewing takes place in households that have opted out of broadcast delivery altogether. Those same consumers, Hazlett notes, lose hundreds of billions in wireless capability through the waste of "the most valuable airwaves on God's Green Earth" on digital TV signals that today are unwatched and unneeded.

Analog switchoff goes unnoticed, Financial Times, February 28, 2009. By Thomas W. Hazlett.

"When, in 1986, cell-phone makers and public safety agencies asked the Federal Communications Commission for a shot at using scores of idle TV channels, politically powerful TV stations quashed the idea. They hurriedly hatched a reason: extra frequencies had to be reserved for 'advanced television.' America, then reeling from Japan’s emergence as a consumer electronics powerhouse, needed to develop its own cool video application and dominate the world.

"The government leapt into action. Committees were formed and a digital transmission standard set. Manufacturers were required to install DTV receivers in all new TV sets. One new (digital) license was awarded to each of the 1,800 TV stations. Broadcasters were ordered to simulcast a digital signal (viewable via new receivers) and an analog signal (for the old ones). The Government auctioned licenses to firms wishing to use TV channels after the analog feeds went dark – an event scheduled nationally by Congress for midnight on Feb. 17, 2009.

"But Washington then feared the plan was too hasty. The new Obama Administration got Congress to fast-track an 11th-hour delay, pushing back the mandatory analog switch-off until June 12, 2009.

"But many TV stations wanted to cut their analog broadcasts anyway. In truth, they believe that over-the-air transmissions are a waste, not worth the electricity it takes to send them. Hence, some 420 TV stations pulled the plug last week, joining another 200 analog stations that had already signed off. What was supposed to cause outrage and panic among TV viewers proved a non-event. Workers at telephone banks set up to deal with frantic callers searching for their favourite TV shows were sent home early. TV Turnoff Goes Smoothly was the headline in markets around the country.

"While the FCC was meandering through its 23-year transition, 'free TV' died."

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