Anyone who has raised more than one child has heard “it’s not fair.” I tried to teach my children about fairness by telling them that if they really wanted fairness, they would go to sleep without dinner and sleep on the floor like so many of the world’s less fortunate children.
A friend told me about the time one of his children was complaining that the sibling had more potato chips. He solved the problem by crumbling the complainer’s chips. The numerical superiority changed sides.
There are other things in life that don’t seem fair. “Youth is wasted on the young,” and some people seem to be able to eat anything and not put on weight. Others seem to be sequestering carbon right out of the air – no matter how little they eat, they put on more weight. It’s not fair!
Currently, cable seems to be at the unfair end of several situations. The one which seems particularly egregious involves the upcoming July 1, 2007 prohibition against set-top boxes with built-in security. The twisted logic is that set-top boxes with built-in security are less expensive than equipment with the sockets and electrical interfaces to accept the CableCARD removable conditional access device. This makes it more challenging for those to compete, who would sell set-top boxes and other devices which are to be used with cable services. Somehow they get away with screaming “it’s not fair,” while the cable subscriber will be forced to pay more for leased set-top boxes. So the proposal to make a “level playing field” is to raise the costs for the consumer by eliminating the less expensive alternative.
It’s kind of nuts, and definitely unfair to both the cable industry and the cable subscriber. Lost in all of this is the cable operator’s increased risk that the less expensive set-top box may have to be replaced at the operator’s expense if the security is breached.
Another instance of “it’s not fair” is state-wide franchising for the telephone industry. Cable operators had to go community-by-community in a strenuous and expensive franchising process involving competition between proposals. It seems the telcos will be spared this annoyance and will get state-wide video franchises in a growing number of states. Is this fair?
“Must-carry” is another case of “it’s not fair” for cable. The broadcast networks pay their local affiliates to carry the network programming and allow them time slots for local advertising. But they demand compensation from cable operators to do the very same thing, without the advertising slots for local ads! Broadcasters are allowed to choose between “retransmission consent” and “must-carry.” So the broadcasters with desirable programming are able to extract cash or some other compensation from cable companies for doing what the broadcaster’s local affiliates get paid to do. Of course, the broadcasters with programming no one wants get a free ride by demanding “must-carry” status instead of “retransmission consent.” So valuable spectrum is consumed for programming no one wants, and the free market decision-making process is frustrated. “It’s not fair.”
Broadcasters are even demanding the confiscation of more spectrum by trying to get the rules changed for carriage of the entire multiplex transmitted in their 6 MHz. Even more egregious, some are asking to be carried in both digital and analog form.
The CableLabs initiative to incorporate a broadcast television receiver in the cable set-top box is brilliant. Most of the electronics for such a receiver are already present in the cable set-top box. All that is needed is an ATSC demodulator to complement the QAM demodulator and a time domain equalizer to reduce the reflected signals in the broadcast environment. These circuits have become affordable. It is critical that a quality tuner and equalizer be implemented, or the system won’t reliably receive broadcast signals and further troubles will arise. This may be a bit more difficult than meets the eye because the ATSC broadcast signal is quite fragile.
I have long felt that it’s not fair to turn off the consumer’s analog broadcast television signals by fiat, rather than by marketplace acceptance. The financially less advantaged may be deprived of the news, information and entertainment that are provided by broadcast television if they don’t obtain a set-top converter. Even the relatively well-off have multiple television receivers and other devices which will be made obsolete by this action. And it will be those at the bottom of the economic ladder who will be harmed the most. Yes, there is a program to provide subsidies for converter boxes, but the funds are quite limited and cannot meet all needs.
The less well-off can obtain a used, well-functioning analog television receiver for $10 to $25. A set-top converter will cost even more than this. It’s not fair that they should be treated this way. At a minimum, the PBS signal should continue to be available in analog form for at least another decade. That would be fair.
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