Because TV’s death has a deadline

What happens after TV’s mainframe era ends next February? That’s the question I pose in a long essay by that title (and at that link) in Linux Journal.

It’s makes a case that runs counter to all the propaganda you’re hearing about the “digital switchover” scheduled for television next February 17.

TV as we know it will end then. It’s worse than it appears. For TV, at least. For those already liberated, a growing new world awaits. For those still hanging on the old transmitter-based teat, it’ll be an unpleasant weaning.

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10 Responses to Because TV’s death has a deadline

  1. Joe Cascio says:

    Wonder what will happen to the spectrum currently carrying broadcast TV?

  2. Scott Thomas says:

    There is a minor typo in the LJ article. “…Broadcast Peak (where out local TV stations come from)”

    No biggie, just thought you would want to know.

    In 1997 I was predicting the end of local OTA broadcasting. Part of the reason being that the FCC would love to auction *all* of the TV spectrum; But here I am, *still* working at a local TV station.

    I recommend the book “Defining Vision” by Joel Brinkley if you haven’t already read it.

  3. Mike Warot says:


    It’s really going to suck when people can’t afford to fill up their SUVs, have to cut back on everything, including cable, then find out they don’t even have TV to watch any more.

    The rapid detox of breads and circuses might be more than some are willing to tollerate.



  4. Dave says:

    Another great article. thanks Doc,

    I have the RCA DTA800 Converter box working in the Los Angeles basin with a stationary Rooftop yagi antenna approximately 30 miles south east from Mount Wilson where most of the television transmitters are located.
    As of now I receive 61 channels, 47 channels have a signal strength of 50 percent on the built-in graphical signal meter, the remaining signals are at 30 percent with a one low power station at 10 percent. During the last mild rain storm that gathered around Mt. wilson and most of the San Gabriel mountain range the signals were down 10-15% with the weakest stations lost or broken up into a plaid- warped pixel mash up. Winter will be interesting to see when the heaver storms hit, and at the current transmitter wattage levels I am on the edge of the good signal area. My antenna is in line of sight of Mt.Wilson with no obstruction.

    Over all I enjoy the digital format and clarity, while some of the channels are doubled with different format 4:3 vs.16:9.

    In hindsight, a better way would have been to go with satellite receivers that recieve free channels off the big geosync birds.
    I would have spent an extra $100 with the $40 coupon for a direct t.v. like system to pick up all that distant microwave like the good old C- band parabolic dish days!

  5. Matthew Reed says:

    That’s an excellent overview of the problems facing the digital switchover. Some are saying that everyone will receive the same channels if they just use a converter box. That is an oversimplification and not true in many cases. Digital transmission is an improvement in many ways, but I think it is too bad that the very areas that are losing their distant television stations often don’t have cable or broadband either. I’m afraid that those areas will be completely left out of the new digital world you are describing.

  6. Doc Searls says:

    Joe, I tried to look that one up. Couldn’t find anything, but just ran out of time. I’m pretty sure some of it will be auctioned off while the rest will go to public safety and other stuff like that. But if anybody feels like doing the research, I’ll be glad to add it to the article. I’m definitely curious.

  7. Doc Searls says:

    Scott, thanks. I fixed it, along with making a few other tweaks.

  8. Doc Searls says:

    Matthew, the only way rural viewers outside OTA DTV range will get the stations they want is with Dish Network or DirectTV. And I guarantee they will carry a small subset of the signals those people used to get with their roof antennas and rotators.

  9. Andrew Back says:

    And I say good riddance to broadcast TV whether analogue or digital. The freed-up precious resource would be much better put to use in piloting deregulated spectrum access. DTV is just another silly stove pipe content delivery solution that is needlessly inflexible and unimaginative.

    With such a sizable chunk of prime spectrum given up for deregulated access we might finally be able to build true community wireless networks. Building a mesh out of nodes that can legally transmit at higher power levels and thus achieve a much better range, and that employ cognitive radio techniques to manage contention.

    The technology is here now: software-defined radio for upping the pace of innovation in radio systems, and as an enabler for cognitive radio. And things such as BitTorrent for efficient content distribution over IP networks. So what is the excuse. I.e why do we continue to build new hugely expensive and cumbersome systems that are obsolete at roll-out, when a better solution is staring us in the face? I just don’t get it. And I don’t want a new discrete TV system – I want free/cheap ubiquitous Internet access, and this will carry the content.

    Incidentally Ofcom (our equivalent of the FCC) held the Digital Dividend Review just over a year ago to get people’s views on what they should do with the spectrum freed-up from the cessation of analogue TV service. But the supporting documentation was pretty much impenetrable. And their proposals were somewhat disappointing. E.g. suggestion of auctions Etc.

  10. Doc Searls says:


    I agree with everything you suggest. All for it.

    The political reality is that no auction-able spectrum will be freed for open use. After a few crumbs are thrown at specialties such as aviation and police/fire, the rest will be auctioned to the “marketplace” — which the FCC and the Wall Street Journal see as “your choice of captor.”

    The concept of open spectrum is anathema to the FCC, and opaque to legislators that understand neither economics nor technology.

    Given that fact, arguing against spectrum as a limiting factor in the first place is hopeless.


    Will we have a better chance under Obama? I hope so. But I’m not holding my breath.

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