Will it take a Democratic president to leave the digital TV switch to the free marketplace?
So maybe it will take a Democratic president to let the free market handle America's switch to digital TV.
Most of the time, when new consumer technology takes over the nation, we hardly notice. As the iPod made record stores irrelevant, the DVR phases out VCR tapes and the remote control slowly crumbles the dominance of broadcast TV networks, we grumble a bit about the vanishing culture, open our wallets and jump into the next new thing.
That's why I always wondered about the rushed transition to digital TV. Under a government dominated by GOP lawmakers who supposedly valued the free market system above all, Congress drafted a plan to force consumers into using digital TV technology by making broadcast stations use it exclusively after Feb. 17.
The pot of gold at the end of this rainbow was the millions in revenue expected when the government auctioned off use of the old analog spectrum to private business. In the process, the entire TV-watching nation was nudged by a looming deadline to one of three choices: buy a digital TV-capable television set, get cable or satellite TV service or pony up cash for a converter to display images from a digital frequency on an analog set.
Isn't this the same party that insisted power companies should find their own way to rebuild after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, without government support? So why was the government forcing the TV industry to rush into a new broadcast technology, regardless of whether the market was ready or willing?
Barack Obama's request to delay this wrenching change -- a possibly destabilizing event that the already shaky broadcast television industry surely does not need now -- may give legislators enough breathing room to decide whether government needs to force this issue at all.
Especially since TV stations have already spent millions to broadcast digital signals, and no new analog TVs are being sold, consumers will transition to the technology on their own in a few more years and broadcasters can decide for themselves when to stop broadcasting an analog signal for the lone holdouts.
If Obama does suggest this path, there shouldn't be many Republicans opposing him. In fact, they probably should have thought of it first.