Digital TV transition costs will hit consumers, subsidies or not

October 19th, 2005

As Congress weighs converter-box subsidies, media reports leave the impression that all our old analog TVs will be ready for the digital transition if consumers pitch in just 10 or 20 bucks.

If only that were the case.

Most viewers get local stations from cable or satellite providers, and they’ll be fine, granted. But millions of over-the-air viewers will require new antennas to get acceptable digital TV reception—and no one in Congress is talking about the need for antennas, let alone subsidies.

Many folks—no one is quite sure how many—who get acceptable analog TV reception with an indoor antenna will find they need an outdoor one to get digital broadcasts. Even the FCC says “DTV is intended to work with an outside TV antenna.” Antennas should be pointed in the direction of the broadcast tower, and, because in many cities the towers are in different directions, viewers may need antennas with rotors. Add the installation costs, and you can be talking hundreds of dollars.

Also, viewers who are used to simply plugging in a TV and having it work may need extra help to manage the complexities of setting up a digital TV or set-top box. Some will simply give up and order cable.

In Britain, elderly or disabled viewers will get free equipment and installation help. When the British government tested a forced switch to digital TV in part of Wales, they spent about $3700 per house to convert 475 homes. (Britain imposes a TV license fee, which will help defray the costs.) Remember, too, that Britain uses a digital TV standard that, many experts argue, delivers more robust over-the-air reception than America’s.

In our rich country, where many children live in poverty with no access to health care, I won’t argue for further (as one blogger calls it) “TV welfare.” Here’s my question, though: Why is no one in Congress even talking about the full consumer cost of the digital TV transition?


  1. Clinton Patterson says:

    The Gov Need to Think of us Disabled People that lives up in the Foot Hills and mnt’s of Tennessee that don’t have the Money for Big Satights Prices Programs, and has to get their TV for Loco CH by Air, What are we going to do? even getting an new Ant, cost and how are we going to get them up????
    The Gov makes this happen, they can help, and if they can do this they can help the Older and Disabled People better too the one like us that wounder what is next how do we eat?? And How do we get the Med’s for our Wifes? And get them to the Doctors???
    They need to help!!!
    C Patterson

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