Rep. Jay Inslee, Democrat, came by today, discussing broadband, telecom, etc., issues. A big bill is in the works, and he didn’t have time to describe it all even if we could have understood it all. He had one idea I liked and one I didn’t, and a warning.
The warning was that 70 million television sets—that is, all the older, analog sets—are going to become worthless in 2009 or thereabouts when the spectrum allocation is changed and the broadcasters have to go digital. There is a box TV owners can buy that translates digital signal for an analog TV, and that box costs about $100 now, Inslee said. Maybe it would cost less later.
His idea I didn’t like was that the federal government should take some of the $20-$30 billion it expects from the sale of surplus spectrum-–perhaps $1 billion or more--and subsidize these TV boxes. That is, all the people who have invested in analog TVs, and are forced to junk them or buy the $100 boxes, would get a coupon from the government that would pay for most of the cost of the box. Only fair, Inlee said, because the government would be rendering their old TVs worthless.
I asked him what the problem was. Your TV is going to become useless in four years unless you pay $100 then. You have four years to set aside $100. People can do that. It’s not difficult. “They would be able to do that,” Inslee said. “My question is whether they would be pleased to do it.”
Most people will just buy new TVs. The digital signal on the new TVs will be very cool. Very sharp picture. They'll love it.
The change to digital signals will free up spectrum that can then be resold to new users. Inslee’s idea I did like was to hold back part of the newly available spectrum and create a commons for unlicensed use. The idea here is to have a place for tinkerers and inventors to try out new ideas, to start new services and see how they work. It could be chaotic, of course, but there are ways to deal with chaos. “Geniuses are coming up with systems that can search for free spectrum—that can go out and hunt for it,” he said. I have to admit I know little about it, but I like the fact that he’s thinking about innovation—about making room for the unknown future as well as the present.
Respond to Bruce.