The Spectacle Blog

Texan Television

By on 4.28.08 | 5:49PM

Mexican soap operas may not be at the top of the list of threats to the U.S., but it seems they're at least on the list. How do I know? Because of a bill introduced by Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The law, which just passed the Senate Commerce Committee by voice vote, lets analog broadcasters near the country's southern border continue broadcasting in analog for an additional five years beyond next year's mandatory switch to all-digital over-the-air broadcasts.

Why? Well, from Congress Daily, here's the Senator's explanation:

Given the slow pace of the DTV education efforts and the cost of upgrading, many households along the border may opt to rely on free analog television originating from Mexico, which is not part of the transition, Hutchison said.

First of all, this seems a remarkably silly thing for legislators to be fretting about. But I wonder what Hutchison means when she refers to "the cost of upgrading." For those few homes affected by the transition, upgrading is fairly inexpensive, and the government has already put more than a billion dollars toward further easing those costs.

A lot of people think the transition will require the purchase of a fancy new TV, but that's just not the case. U.S. homes which receive TV signals any way other than over-the-air broadcast (an antenna)-like, say, subscribing to cable or satellite-won't be affected by the transition at all. So it's really only a small portion of the country (usually between 10 and 15 percent, depending on who's counting) who are set to be affected.

And those who will be needn't shell out megabucks for a new TV. Converter boxes which allow your old antenna to pick up the new digital signals only cost about $50, and what's more, the government will pay for $40 of that cost through a (rather wasteful) $1.5 billion transition program. In other words, converting an old TV set is cheap, and the cost has already been heavily subsidized. Yet folks like Hutchison seem to think the minimal remaining cost is worrisome enough to deserve legislative attention.

But I suppose it just proves what they say is true: You don't mess with Texas, and you especially don't mess with Texas's television broadcasts.

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