All this whining about DTV's future has put lawmakers in a digital daze

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At the risk of sounding elitist or insensitive, I'm having a good hearty laugh right now over the political posturing and gnashing of teeth stemming from the momentous flipping of the switch from analog to digital TV — "DTV is coming! Your TV set may soon be useless!" — that's due to go down Feb. 17. Or not.

On Wednesday, the House failed to pass a bill that would have delayed The Big Changeover to June 12. The fact that a delay is even being considered is proof that it takes some people a somewhat longer time to get with the program than others. Like, say, a generation.

You might have heard there are supposedly like 8 million households in the U.S. that aren't prepared for this and are thus in danger of losing their TV signal. But our federal government, on the case as ever, has heroically stepped in to offer $40 vouchers good for converter boxes that will allow digitally deficient televisions to remain operational.

Now think about this for a second: It presupposes that Americans have an inalienable right to a free TV signal, even if they haven't upgraded their equipment since Uncle Irving gifted mom with that nifty 20-inch black-and-white Zenith toward the end of the Eisenhower administration. Did these sets come with a lifetime viability guarantee I wasn't aware of?

It's comforting to know that while the country might be on the precipice of financial collapse, we're generously extending the bailout to TV viewers who defiantly — or perhaps out of financial necessity — continue to resist this newfangled world populated by more than nine channels. We might compare it to folks who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge any state aside from the 13 original colonies.

Perhaps Madison Avenue would be wise to consider ignoring these people. I mean, if they have no cable or satellite subscription, what kind of reception can they be getting with the rabbit-ears-and-coat-hanger combo, anyway? You've also got to figure that if they can't afford to purchase a new TV set for 120 bucks, much less a monthly cable subscription, they probably don't buy too many cars or cell phones.

The bottom line is we're elevating an issue of trivial importance to something purportedly laid down in the Bill of Rights. But the news flash is this is not something that those left bereft of a television picture on the day that analog disappears can litigate. It doesn't infringe on life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. I don't believe our forefathers specifically referred to the right to watch "Dancing With the Stars."

But here's the real joke: No matter how state-of-the-art your TV monitor, it soon will be obsolete as well. In case we have yet to notice, television itself is growing increasingly irrelevant, no matter the delivery system. Just ask anyone under 25. An increasing number of them download and stream whatever they want to watch, legally and otherwise. They have never known an analog world and thus have zero interest in its disappearance.

I'm guessing a greater furor will erupt when it's announced that digital TV transmission is going away for good and being replaced by a Web-only model. That day might be 15 or 20 years away, but trust me, it's coming. The technological infrastructure is more or less in place. All that really needs to get ironed out is how the compensation pie stands to be split.

So please try not to mourn too much for those unfortunate souls who don't seem capable of moving beyond 1979. It turns out we're separated from them by a mere few degrees — and getting closer all the time.

Ray Richmond can be reached at ray.richmond@THR.com
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