McCain's Digital Prescription: Bad Medicine?

Buy some digital TV equipment and save the world? Maybe.

In a weird association, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is demanding that U.S. TV consumers buy digital TV sets and equipment in order to underwrite a better communication system that will prevent disasters like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

McCain now wants to push for a quicker date - late 2006 or early 2007 - for the broadcast industry to totally move to he digital spectrum. That would leave the full analog spectrum for so-called first responders, emergency officials who would it use to communicate and avert disaster problems.

You can understand the Senator's point. He's had enough of the U.S. tripping over itself when it comes to national emergencies. He probably thinks TV stations and large media companies who reap gobs of financial profits should give something back.

Critics have said broadcasters would need to pay the freight. This also includes cable operators that would need to buy digital set top boxes for two-thirds of the U.S. TV sets that aren't hooked up digitally. Unfortunately, if pushed, those cable companies will do what they have always done in times of financial emergency--pass on the cost to consumers.



Research has shown that U.S TV consumers aren't ready for the switch--and at best are indifferent to the move to digital. Curiously, proposed analog equipment for first responders isn't even ready yet--all of which makes McCain's moves a little premature.

If the switch from analog to digital is in the crucial national interest, perhaps McCain can foster a U.S.-backed rebate plan for digital TV sets and equipment for consumers. Broadcasters and cable operators are more apt to move if their customer base is already technologically ready.

Aren't typically Republican-minded Congresses more of the "let the marketplace decide" mentality? Then perhaps they ought to see where the marketplace is before they start force-feeding technology to the masses who will need to pick up the tab.

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