citydesk took our $40 government coupon and bought a digital converter for the old television this week. It cost about $20 cash, on top of the digital welfare check.
Coincidentally, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell made a stop in Boise this week to tout the upcoming digital conversion and encourage local broadcasters to prepare an infomercial on how to hook up a converter box to an older set so that no television watcher is left behind.
The average, free, over-the-air viewer like us is going to have many more options, McDowell said.
That night we plugged in the box and were quite pleased with the crystal clear reception on every station but 2 (which did not come in well before we went digital, either). With digital, cable-phobes actually get more free channels, including four different public television streams.
But we still have some questions for the FCC. What does the public gain as broadcasters quadruple or sextuple their holdings? What public use of the old analog spectrum is being considered? And will broadcasters be held accountable for more local programming, quality programming or public service programming?
McDowell started to answer some of these questions in his Boise appearance, though the FCC is very focused on the technology part of the digital switch and less concerned with the policy implications.
Benefits to the viewing public include a "sharper, clearer picture," better sound, including surround sound and more programming.
That last one holds the most promise for better tv. And Idaho Public Television is taking the opportunity to provide more streams of public interest programming. But as a whole, commercial broadcasters are getting a huge boon in the number of available station streams without any additional obligation to the public.
The other question McDowell addressed is the fate of the old analog spectrum. McDowell said that the old channels have already been auctioned off and are expected to be used to provide broadband internet access. Analog television frequencies will carry much farther than current broadband and wi-fi services.
But there are groups still pushing for some of the old television spectrum, particularly the "white space" between channels, to be used for public wireless internet.