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"Analogue Switch-Off Starts In Wales Today, DTV Starts."

"Villages Lead the Digital TV Way."

"Digital revolution creates a class divide."

There's always one party-pooper in the group. But regardless, the last days of March were great days for digital television. And sadly, great days indeed for analog. The analog switch-off has begun in the U.K.
Joining Berlin as a DTV-only area are the small Wales villages of Ferryside and Llansteffan, whose 460 homes can no longer receive terrestrial analog television. By 2012, the U.K. plans to be totally digital.

Now, you may be thinking you've heard of government timetables before, but the U.K. has done something we here in the U.S. haven't been able to do: They shut down analog (or more appropriately...analogue). And they did it with the consent and approval of the population...well, most of the population anyway.

Before you start scratching your heads on this, realize that last November villagers took part in a digital pilot program to discover how people coped with the new digital equipment and to learn from any technical problems experienced in the switchover. Residents were given digital boxes for each television set while elderly residents were offered individual one-on-one technical coaching. There was even a helpline set up.

After three months it was put to a vote: Residents were asked if they wanted to keep the digital services or revert to analog. Ninety-eight percent wanted to keep the digital service out of 85% of residents who responded.

Why? More programs, very clear pictures, and very good sound.

But all is not wonderful in Ferryside and Llansteffan: while almost two-thirds of the villagers were given free digital decoder boxes to try out the new service, the rest were told that they would have to buy their own decoders or go without digital services.

Why? Where a hill rises above the roofline, 150 households are cut off from the relay transmitter providing free digital television. Houses hidden behind it must continue to rely on another transmitter and pay for digital themselves.

The name of the hill: the Cliff. A true to life digital cliff.
If all goes well, Wales will be analog-free by 2008 and the entire U.K. by 2012. And just like in the U.S., telecom companies will be bidding hard for that old analog spectrum.

But that will have to wait.

Unlike the U.S., the British government is in discussions with charities about how to protect the vulnerable while promising not to authorize a complete switchover until support measures are in place.

Now, why aren't we that smart? Oh right...Congress.

Congress vs. The FCC

Last month, Mark Schubin wrote about the FCC rejecting KJLA's go-digital-only request as the Commission found that "in a market the size of Los Angeles, the loss of analog over-the-air service to even 0.25% of a station's audience could result in the disenfranchisement of a significant number of persons."

While Congress' "85% rule" for shutting off analog has always been something that would take effect in the future, the FCC couldn't come to terms today with what is effectively a "reater than 99.75% rule."

That's what happens when math and statistics are subjected to reality.

If one part of the federal government--the Commission--can't or won't disenfranchise 0.25% of Los Angeles viewers (admittedly a small audience of 13,500 potential TVHHs), how in the world will another part of the federal government--Congress--come to terms with cutting off analog service to 15% of Los Angeles' 5.4 million TVHHs with the 85% rule.
That would be 810,000 TVHHs.

Granted, I'm sure Congress believes that those actual people in those actual 810,000 TVHHs probably don't vote since they don't even have cable or satellite. But isn't the job of a democratic society to protect the minority when the majority wants to alienate them or take away their rights?

To be fair, those pushing for a firm December 31, 2006 cut-off want a subsidy program to help the estimated 8 to 10 million US households that are below the poverty line. The cost could be as high as $500 million and would come from analog spectrum revenues. But just how good would what will undoubtedly be the cheapest DTV reception circuitry in a subsidized STB work?
It'll be interesting to see what yet another part of the federal government--The Supreme Court--will have to say about the 85% rule.