Thursday, November 01, 2007
People who are really into technology tend to want to think of technology as something the always progresses in a positive direction and that technological progress is motivated by the usefulness or entertainment value of the technology. Far too often though, technological advances are motivated or inhibited by economics or even politics, and that's exactly what's been happening with America's transition to all digital over the air TV transmissions.
The transition to digital TV has some very real benefits for both TV viewers and our society at large. First of all, digital TV produces an incredibly clear picture that the older analog format wasn't capable of producing under any conditions. Plus, digital TV comes with an on screen program guide which will make it much easier for viewers to decide what to watch.
The transition to digital TV benefits society in several different ways. One of these benefits will be seen in freed up over the air bandwidth that can be used for other things. Right now a lot of over the air telecommunications bandwidth is being used by TV stations to transmit their programming in both analog and digital signals. Once the analog signals are shut off, the bandwidth that they used to occupy will be dedicated to other purposes. Some of it will be used to give emergency responders better communications ability- a necessity that was pointed out by 9/11 and again during hurricane Katrina. The remaining bandwidth will be auctioned off by the FCC and probably will end up being used for widespread wireless networks.
All of the above are good reasons to switch to exclusively digital TV transmissions, but there are also a lot of benefits to some big businesses that will result from the switch. For example, consumer electronics manufacturers stand to benefit because of the fact that upon the switch to digital TV transmissions, TV sets that only receive analog signals will be unable to display TV. This will require the owners of those TV sets to either buy a new TV set with a digital tuner or to buy a special set top box that will convert the digital signals to analog signals that the older TV set will understand. Consumer electronics manufacturers will be in a position to make a huge profit as people make the switch.
TV service providers represent another sector of the economy that could see a profit from this switch. That's because their receiver boxes perform the same function as the converter boxes, so if someone needs to make a change anyway in order to keep watching TV, it might be enough to prompt them to subscribe to a TV service.
The companies that will buy up all of that bandwidth stand to profit too from whatever they end up using it for. Even the FCC will profit from the proceeds of auctioning the bandwidth.
While a transition to over the air digital signals is definitely a good thing for the common good, it seems unfortunate that one of the main motivating factors behind it seems to be to sell electronics.