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By Michael Rogers Columnist
Special to MSNBC
updated 5/2/2005 4:22:14 PM ET 2005-05-02T20:22:14

I don’t think I’ve ever received so much e-mail so quickly as with last week’s column on the cut-off of analog television , ranging from puzzlement and outrage to predictions of sudden increases in both book sales and pregnancies. 

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First, an update. Last week I had a chance to see one of the first non-HD digital televisions at a home entertainment show in New York.  RCA showed its 27-inch 27V514T set displaying a digital over-the-air broadcast next to a set receiving the same channel in analog form, through the same antenna.  The digital image was significantly better ( more on this from Gary Krakow ).

As several readers reminded me, many over-the-air viewers will find that converting to digital sets could significantly improve the images they receive. At the same time, however, fringe-area viewers may find that digital signals simply don’t reach them at all.  And several readers in England, where digital over-the-air is already common, noted that the signals are more sensitive to weather and can break down in heavy rainstorms.   

But the discussion really isn’t about digital versus analog—that decision was made years ago; it’s about how digital will replace analog in this country.  And on that score, the vast majority of readers were very outspoken. 

Marguerita, West Jordan, UT: I think if they were going to do this they should have begun halting the production of analog sets when they proposed the transition.  If they would have produced reasonably affordable sets right off the bat, more people would have them in their homes now. It is obvious that foresight was not part of the plan. 

Sue Gordon, Huntington Beach, CA: No one has even mentioned the staggering cost to local government, businesses and consumers to manage all of these "obsolete" analog TVs as hazardous waste.  Many states, including California, as well as the federal government, now regulate CRTs as hazardous waste.  The cost to recycle them ranges from $30-55 a unit and the cost to dispose of them is equally onerous. The government better consider the financial impact of disposing/recycling these obsolete televisions.

Rogers replies: In fact there has been some informal discussion about recycling programs that are partially funded by manufacturers.  But since analog sets will still be useful for watching DVDs, video tapes and video games, the odds are that there won’t be an immediately massive disposal situation.

Wayne Collins, Tampa, FLA: Here in Florida when a hurricane comes through and tears out your cable lines, for now at least you can put on the old trusty rabbit ears until the power goes out. This is legislation that will affect public safety during catastrophes.

Dave Skinner, Colorado: I understand that technology needs to move forward but why is it always on the back of the average person?  I don't need a new TV, I need lower medical costs, a secure social security system and how about a reasonable cost for fuel to get me to work.  Maybe Congress should pass a law that would require all analog manufacturers and retailers to provide the conversion boxes FOR FREE. China would choke on that one... but maybe it’s about time Congress started protecting the people that make up the United States instead of lining China's pockets.

Jamie, New Lenox, IL: As one of the seeming minority of Americans who still uses an antenna and an older set, I'm upset that the government can make these changes.  We haven't caved to the pressures of cable or satellite TV, despite the fact we could afford it, simply because we don't want to afford it.  The fact that we settle for an older set so that we can save more for our retirement (30+ years in the future) now seems like it's going to cost us more.

Anon: I think the whole idea of subsidized converters is ridiculous.  I understand that low-income people NEED food, but no one NEEDS television.  The fact is: many children could stand a little less TV in their day. Not having food will kill you, not having TV is just an inconvenience.

Crista Renouard, Houston, TX: I'm one of those 15 percent'ers who only have the broadcast channels. No cable whatsoever. If the cut-off happens in 2006, I won't do anything about it. TV is such garbage that I really don't care.

KMD, Azusa, CA: I live alone and make $30,000 annually. However, I cannot afford cable or to buy a receiver.  With the high cost of housing now, every purchase is thought out at length.  I work two jobs just to make ends meet. I have 2 small television sets and only receive about 7 channels.  The public should have been notified about this 2 years ago.

Don Warrenburg, Bottineau, North Dakota: I live in a rural area 80 miles from the nearest towers, and I use an antenna to get my television stations. I'm not home enough to justify paying for cable and satellite. I would like to watch HDTV but they would need to install repeaters to get a useable signal out here. I don't think the networks are going to want to spend the money in our little area of the world. Those are just some thoughts from a small rural community that probably won't make any difference to most people.  This does make a difference to me though.

D.J. Colbert, Gambrills, MD: My mom's in her 70's.  She likes to watch the Today Show every morning, but doesn't WANT cable or a new TV. It works well for her and she's used to it; she doesn't want to relearn something she's been doing for all her adult life.  Longevity being what it is today, she'll probably live another 25-30 years.  Tell Congress they can "convert" all of us AFTER my Mom passes away. 

Rhonda, Oklahoma: I think that it is wrong to change the way television is now.  Most of my friends and I would not have TV except for free TV. We are just trying to make it and we do not have the extra finances to afford a box for our TV just to make it work.  Congress will be sending most of us into the dark ages due to others’ greed if they pass this rule.

Karen, Baltimore, MD: I think the warning labels should be on TVs now.  I am upper middle class but would never pay for TV--cable is just 100 channels of more crap.  But, I do own TVs and purchased one for my daughter the other day--with no idea it could soon need a converter box.

Rogers replies: Consumer electronic industry execs say that they would support putting warning labels on analog televisions once Congress sets a definite date for the cut-off. 

Then, of course, I also heard from the early adopters, who are more than ready to kiss analog goodbye:

Logan Simmons, Jonesboro, Arkansas: I think setting an early date would be a good thing.  I have owned an HDTV for years now, but have yet to receive an HD signal from anything other than my DVD player. I feel I am probably not the only one on this boat!

Anon: I'm in favor of pulling the plug as early as next Tuesday. There's nothing on TV anyway except CSI Miami.  I like the Internet. The faster and more widespread Internet, sooner rather than later, is OK with me.

Mark, Spokane: Gee, if no date is set, this could end up in the same basket as the metric system.  Seems like we had a law that mandated a change - but it was then "backed off" and eventually dumped.  If we're going to do it, then let's just do it and get on with life!

Rogers replies: And then there’s the inevitable questions that no one has really worried about yet…

Carl, Kingston, 1000 Islands, on the Ontario/NY border: One issue that's been virtually ignored in the rush to go digital is the effect on communities divided by the international boundary. Digital TV follows the US standard in Canada, but the cutover dates differ widely. Canada has taken a voluntary approach with only early adopters (such as Toronto's CITY-TV, CFTO and very few others) having made the conversion

Dumping analog signals in bi-national markets such as Buffalo-Niagara and Detroit-Windsor could mean splitting these markets in two, right down the borderline -- bad news for stations in border towns who potentially stand to lose a sizeable portion of their audience.

Rogers replies: A similar situation exists along the Mexican border.  In one report the FCC hypothesized that the high percentage of Hispanic households using over-the-air reception was due in part to the fact that they also wanted to pick up signals from Mexican broadcasters not available on US cable or satellite.  

If there was any consistent lesson in the voluminous email it is that a whole lot more consumer education needs to be done about the future of digital television.  For its part, the FCC has launched a Web site at www.dtv.gov.  But given my readers’ concern that the government is already too aligned with the consumer electronics companies, the site is a bit overly promotional: Get It! Tomorrow’s Television Today!  (One reader commented that it sounds too much like a direct order.) 

Broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers need to get involved also—otherwise this is going to be a guaranteed employment act for technology journalists, who will be spending the rest of the decade explaining, again and again, just what happened to everyone’s dependable old television.

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