Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cut the cable!

Over the air broadcasting works great.

Sick of paying through the nose for cable? The transition to digital TV improved reception in most of the US for old-fashioned over-the-air (OTR) television. For the price of a modest antenna and a contemporary TV with a digital tuner, (or a tuner box), you can be be in business getting scores of channels in most metropolitan areas.

Cable TV began as a community solution to bad OTR reception. Communities would set up an antenna on a hill, and feed cables down to residents in the reception shadows. This turned into a lucrative business, and then with the advent of cable-only channels, into its own ecosystem of nation-wide TV content, from the bass fishing channel to ESPN.

The pricing model is very curious, however. Cable providers typically have monopolies in their service areas, competing only with OTA broadcasters and lately with satellite providers. So there is a competitiveness problem from the start. Secondly, they bundle all sorts of channels into only a few pricing tiers, leaving consumers with very little real choice. They have used their monopoly position to fund forays into other businesses, like content, movie studios, and internet service, which is again a quasi-monopoly. They transmit all the same advertisements from the OTA broadcasters they carry, so the consumer is in some sense paying twice for those channels.

Remember how during the recent Olympics, getting any significant internet coverage required having a cable subscription showing that you really didn't need internet access after all? Despite the obvious capability of carrying advertisements on internet video, the corporations in charge thought it more important to fence in their cable franchises than to extend viewership in the new medium. (Ditto for Hulu.)

If it were all rigorously regulated in the public interest, these failures of competition might be rationally corrected, but obviously, the cable companies are far more profitable than they would be in such a scenario, and send some excess dollars back into the political system in support of right-wing causes and their own continued deregulation & monopoly position, as well as into ancillary industries to build up even bigger monopolistic positions.

Anyhow, so there are reasons to dislike the cable incumbents, and look at other alternatives. The internet provides one avenue to a variety of more obscure interests, (at least until the cable industry kills net neutrality!), which cable TV serves so haphazardly with its fringe fare. And the OTA broadcasters are still there, churning out waves to all who want to watch.

Really, setting up an antenna can be a lot simpler than setting up a cable system. Digital TV happens in the UHF and high-VHF radio bands. The low VHF channels like 2 to 5 have been dropped, though you will still see channels called #2 whose actual radio frequency has been shifted upwards under the covers. This means that the largest, most unwieldy elements of old-fashioned TV antennas are no longer needed. So, while rabbit ears may be quite enough in urban areas, for roof-top or attic use you need only a pretty modest antenna to get digital TV:

Most broadcasters in this digital world offer not only their main channel that you are used to, but 2 or 3 (or even 20) side channels with miscellaneous programming. In all, I can pull in about 57 channels in the San Francisco Bay area, including many in fascinating languages I do not understand.

Obviously, you would not know about this from most of the media. We are inundated with come-ons from the cable companies with insulting teaser rates. No one advertises for OTA TV, even while they enthusiastically advertise on it. The cable companies have tried to kill internet TV in various ways, and seem to have successfully restricted options for people to record OTR content on modern DVRs. Very few such machines are available, other than the higher-end TiVo boxes, which again require their own subscription, not to mention sending detailed viewing data out into the ether.

So, there is a better way. Drop the OWN channel, and get in touch with your local grass roots, by surfing those amazing waves over the air.

  • Verizon's bid to compete with cable dies- will join the cable-o-poly instead.
  • Put a nickel on the drum, pay for Republican indoctrination.
  • George Eliot, leading atheist.
  • Plutocrat "wins" debate by lying with gusto and shouting down "moderator". Next debate, knives and brass knuckles.
  • Romney doesn't know what he is talking about, or else has an astonishingly low opinion of the electorate ... as usual.
  • Romney becomes mayor of Sesame Street.
  • Our financial regulatory system is toothless and broken.
  • Simon Johnson, begging for bank reform.
  • Woodward hates Obama for some reason having to do with use of the telephone.
  • Austerity, Bowles-Simpson, monetary necrophilia.. call it what you will, it is wrong.

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