Most of the coverage of today’s digital television (DTV) transition has focused on the transition-related hassles. But it’s worth joining Farhad Manjoo in recognizing that whatever problems do or do not emerge with the immediate transition, the consequences of this move will be very good:
For all these problems, there are a couple of amazing advantages to digital TV, benefits that you hardly hear about in the apocalyptic coverage of the transition. The first one: The switch is going to free up a vast share of public airwaves that can be used for much better things than TV. Last year, the government auctioned off the “spectrum” that TV stations will give up once they stop broadcasting analog signals. Verizon and AT&T won the radio space, though Google, in its first big foray into lobbying, managed to convince the Federal Communications Commission to require that the telecom companies keep the new space “open”—meaning that they can’t restrict what software or hardware customers use on the airwaves. As a result of the switch, we’ll soon get a much better wireless Internet—wider coverage, faster downloads, and with fewer restrictions. That’s much more worthwhile than a snowy local channel showing reruns of Golden Girls.
The extra spectrum ending up in the hands of AT&T and Verizon wasn’t totally ideal, as I think a lot of people were hoping that it would end up elsewhere and strengthen competition among the major wireless service providers. But despite its problems, the US wireless market isn’t totally uncompetitive either, so as capabilities expand, so should the quality of the offerings. In recent years, the United States has started to fall behind the technological curve in terms of Internet speed and putting this spectrum to high-value uses will be an important part of picking the pace up again.