Sen. Stevens and His Toys

by on May 26, 2005

As they say, the only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys. For U.S. senators they can be even more costly. National Journal reports that, in a speech yesterday, Sen. Stevens remarked that he was “toying with the idea” of requiring analog TV manufacturers to sell digital converter boxes with their sets.” The idea is ensure that more households can receive TV signals when the transition to digital TV broadcasting is complete. Households that buy analog sets shouldn’t have to cover the cost of converter boxes, he argued, saying “I don’t know why these foreign manufacturers shouldn’t shift over to digital and if they don’t, they should give us a box.”

There may be some flaws in this logic. First, the reason any manufacturer–foreign or not–sells things to American consumers is because American consumers want to buy those things. The reference to foreign interests smacks of political pandering and is entirely unhelpful to the debate. Second, rather than relieve consumers of the cost of converter boxes, a mandate would simply ensure that consumers paid, as manufacturers would certainly pass on the cost to their customers.

There is no easy way out of the digital TV quagmire. The problem was created a decade ago when the government gave broadcasters–for free–the use of additional spectrum to use during the transition from analog transmission. Now (surprise) it is having a devil of a time getting it back. The answer isn’t clear. What is clear is that blaming foreigners and pretending that consumers won’t shoulder the costs of new rules doesn’t help.

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