The Next Digital Divide

The digital divide has been used to describe a situation of the "haves" and "have nots" of internet access. The digital divide was a real concern in the early years of commercial internet, but as prices have fallen for both PCs and internet access, the percentage of Americans with home internet access has surpassed 80%. But, there is another digital divide looming. It will occur with our televisions.

Congress has mandated that all television signals be broadcast in digital format by January, 2009. The transition from analog to digital signals will improve the viewing experience and free up broadcast spectrum space. Manufacturers have been producing models that comply with the new regulations. Making new televisions to support digital signals accomodates the change to digital, but what about the millions of analog TVs in homes across the country? A major concern is how certain vulnerable populations, namely low income and senior households, will be affected by the change. A program will be available that will allow households to request 2-$40 vouchers to help offset cost of boxes needed to handle digital transmissions. However, the vouchers will be issued on a first come, first served basis.

Most people have no idea of the impending change, so they won't know they need to purchase boxes that will enable them to continue to use their analog TVs. A massive information campaign must be launched, but who will take the lead- Manufacturers? Industry groups? Government agencies? Apparently, a thorough plan for implementing the digital initiative among households with analog TVs has not been developed. In particular, there has been little consideration for those who can least afford additional investments in digital equipment. Link