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Television Media Government United States Politics

Billion Dollar Handout To Upgrade TVs 663

Posted by kdawson
from the if-we-can-send-a-man-to-the-moon dept.
db32 writes "SFGate has the story of the cutoff date for those rabbit ear antennas that some of us grew up with (Feb. 19, 2009). Now while the story of analog vs. digital TV has been beaten to death, still I think there is something more here. 'The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration... said it is setting aside $990 million to pay for the boxes. Each home can request up to two $40 coupons for a digital-to-analog converter box, which consumer electronics makers such as RCA and LG plan to produce.' Beyond my disdain for most TV to begin with, I am blown away that with all of our current problems — homelessness and crime on the home front, war fighting and terrorism abroad — our government is seriously going to spend this much money on upgrading peoples' televisions."
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Billion Dollar Handout To Upgrade TVs

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  • $1 billion to the government is chump change. Not even 0.1% of the budget. Do you know how much more is spent on far more useless things?
    • Please, do tell. So people can get the 'news' or government warnings? Radio is cheaper, and more efficient for all involved.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209)
        $1 BN is a lot of money to me, too, but this was the only way to get everybody to agree to give up the extremely valuable RF spectrum currently wasted by broadcast TV. I say "wasted" because the old technology is using up huge swaths of some of the very best frequencies. Newer technology will use this limited natural resource much more efficiently.
    • Well at least the convertor coupons benefit anyone who wants one. The bridge to nowhere [pacificviews.org] benefits almost no one but the corrupt politician who demanded it.
  • important (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You have to understand what is important to people.
    • by Tackhead (54550)
      > You have to understand what is important to people.

      Hell, you have to understand what is important to the government. If the TVs went off, the people would either start rioting or thinking. The $1B handout to keep the TVs on is probably the best investment in political stability that tax dollars can buy.

      • by cbreaker (561297)
        Ohh, so you're another one of those people that thinks TV is bad. You know, my grandma used to say that too. And her mother said it about radio. And her mother probably said it about the telegraph or using locomotives.

        If the TV went off, people would find something else to do. That's all. No riots.
  • Makes perfect sense (Score:5, Informative)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:00PM (#18340193)
    Giving away the boxes makes perfect sense when one has all of the facts. The government wants to SELL the VHF spectrum and can't do that until they can move the current occupants out. I'd guess they will get more than a billion from selling off the spectrum so they are going to buy off the last holdouts.
    • Well, at least someone realizes what's going on. jmorris42, you've restored my faith in humanity.
    • by Shawn Parr (712602) <parr&shawnparr,com> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:30PM (#18340633) Homepage Journal
      The last time I saw this oft repeating story come up on /. the FCC expected to get somewhere between 8 and 10 billion dollars when they auction that spectrum. They can't auction it until analog TV signals are completely shut down and the frequencies are no longer in use by the current licensees.

      If I told you I would give you $10 for a $1 bill, would you take it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cfulmer (3166)
      Pfft.

      They can't sell it off until they move the current transmitters off. The receivers don't matter at all.

      Basically, this is the government spending a billion dollars so that the few people in the US who still watch over-the-air TV on old TVs can still watch it in January 2009. (Recent TVs have converters built in; most people get their TV over Cable and Satellite.) Ironically, the people in that situation are probably the ones who care the least about their TV.

      Why is it the government's job to make su
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        They can't sell it off until they move the current transmitters off. The receivers don't matter at all.

        Well, if enough people don't replace their receivers, some broadcasters may fight too keep the analog transmitters going because they don't want to loose the customer base which still receives OTA analog broadcasts, which is something like 15% of television viewers. Other broadcasters will probably be fine with abandoning their old analog equipment.

        Why is it the government's job to make sure people can sti
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by UserGoogol (623581)
        The government's decision to mandate a switch to digital broadcasting (which I think is a good idea) will effectively break millions of people's televisions. When a person is harmed, they deserve some sort of retribution. For the government to "fix the damage that they are doing" by handing out these coupons seems like a relatively fair way to compensate them.

        Yeah, the government should boost scientific research, but the way you're phrasing it is sort of a false dichotomy, especially because scientific stuf
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sconeu (64226)
      I could probably make an argument baed on the Fifth Amendment [usconstitution.net] that turning peoples TVs into very expensive paperweights by administrative fiat, so as to auction off the analog spectrum constitutes "private property taken for public use".

      Hence, the us.gov is constitutionally required to do something like this as "just compensation".
    • by poopie (35416) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @07:50PM (#18341463) Journal
      Yeah OK, we all see that it's a win for the US gov't to free up bandwidth.

      The problem is that by doing so, they're aiding the campaign to implement DRM and "close the analog hole"s.

      If digital TV provided the same freedom and flexibility as analog TV, this wouldn't even be a story on Slashdot.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 2centplain (838236)
        Right. The FCC gets to sell the analog TV bandwidth, which will fund the converter coupon program. Not a bad deal.

        The government could instead use the revenue to fund wars instead. At least Americans get a coupon so they can continue to sit in front of the tube.

        Could you imagine might happen if Joe six-pack TV stopped working all of a sudden? What would he do with his free time? He might notice that he's pissed off at his diminishing importance in the world and start a revolution.

        TV is still the sopor

  • It should go without saying, but apparently it needs repeating.
  • by B5_geek (638928) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:01PM (#18340211)
    I don't know why you are surprised.. TV is the opiate of the masses.

    Tell them they are happy.
    Medicate them.
    Tell them that the Government is protecting them.
    Medicate them.
    Provide an conduit for masses to not _need_ to think about day-to-day life.
    Encourage them to medicate themselves.

    Result; they will think that they are happy.
    • by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:10PM (#18340343) Homepage Journal
      "Bread and Circuses". It's all you need to placate the populace. Getting things done might be productive, but cheap entertainment is so much easier.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      And what is the difference between thinking one is happy, and actually being happy?
      • by thelexx (237096)
        It's called 'being oppressed' at a root level. "To oppress is usually to subject (a people) to burdens, to undue exercise of authority, and the like; its chief application, therefore, is to a social or political situation"

    • by cbreaker (561297) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:11PM (#18340371) Journal
      I'm obviously not as pessimistic at the world as you are because I think that's complete garbage, but assuming you're correct: If a person thinks they are happy, who cares? Are you going to try and prove to a happy person that are, in fact, just as angry and boring as you are? What's the point? Leave them in their happiness.
      • by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:52PM (#18340927) Homepage
        Are you going to try and prove to a happy person that are, in fact, just as angry and boring as you are? What's the point?

        How are you going to get any happier if you don't take happiness from others?
    • by metlin (258108) *
      Exactly.

      The propaganda machine has to run.

      And use of the medium that conveys the propaganda needs to be encouraged.

      Is it really that surprising?
  • Bread and Circuses (Score:5, Informative)

    by Oh the Huge Manatee (919359) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:02PM (#18340221)
    The more governments change, the more they stay the same:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses/ [wikipedia.org]

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:03PM (#18340235) Homepage
    Sales tax proceeds from all those $3K to $5K plasma and LCD screens over the years have probably already recouped the transition costs for analog to digital.

    The weird thing is that the sales tax goes to the state not the feds, so it's nets out as a giant shift of funds from fed to the states.
  • Good Investment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by biocute (936687) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:03PM (#18340243) Homepage
    If spending $1B ensures that the majority of citizens can watch TV, especially news, it is money well spent. Where and how else would you be able to deliver your messages to the mass simultaneously?

    Imagine the chaos when people have to access "news" from various/conflicting sources, and start coming up with their own minds.
  • Flawed perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RecoveredMarketroid (569802) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:05PM (#18340275)

    ...with all of our current problems -- homelessness and crime on the home front, war fighting and terrorism abroad...


    This argument can be used to make almost any expenditure look silly. I can't believe, with all of the homelessness, that our government is [sponsoring arts programs | paying for students to take field trips | building monuments to fallen soldiers | repaving roads | ...]

    Just because you have certain problems, doesn't mean that you do without anything else, until those problems are solved.

    Then again, I can't believe that you bought yourself a television, when you could have donated your money to fight homelessness, etc...
  • They are the public airwaves, after all. And there are still lots of people who only have broadcast tv, no cable, no internet. Maybe a radio. We can't just up and revoke people's access to what might be their main source of mass media / news.

    Anyway, what we are apparantly really paying for is better communications for public safety responders.

  • by HungWeiLo (250320) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:08PM (#18340313)
    I'm sure "TVs" are code-named "Urban Pacification Devices (UPD)".

    Ancient Romans had government-subsidized gladiator matches. Americans have Fox-subsidized American Idol. Same difference.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by powerlord (28156)

      Ancient Romans had government-subsidized gladiator matches. Americans have Fox-subsidized American Idol. Same difference.


      Does that mean that next season we'll see the smarmy british Judge face off against a pack of vicious lions?

      Heck, it might actually get me to watch that drivel.
  • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2014@virtual-estates.net> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:08PM (#18340315) Homepage

    with all of our current problems -- homelessness and crime on the home front, war fighting and terrorism abroad -- our government is seriously going to spend this much money on upgrading peoples' televisions.

    Which is opposite of:

    with all the billions spent on at home and abroad, they could not find a lousy $40 to keep grandma's old TV-set functional?

    Demagoguery works both ways...

    • by Paladin144 (676391) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @10:21AM (#18347745) Homepage

      Demagoguery works both ways...

      Sorry, not buying it. Why can't grandma pony up 40 bucks, especially since she gets a fat social security check every month? Instead of your demagogic misdirection, how 'bout you face facts: The government is subsidizing mind control devices in order to ensure the passivity of the populace.

      (As a person who hates TV and doesn't own one, it really pisses me off that my tax dollars are being spent on this boondoggle. Fortunately, the avarice of the convert-makers will ensure that the device costs far more than 40 dollars.)

      You want demagoguery? How about this: The government should send a check for 40 dollars to every single cigarette smoker to account for increased prices (because of lawsuits & taxes). Or maybe the government should send 40 grand to Coca-cola for every soda/pop machine that is removed from our schools because of those uppity parents' groups.

      Your demagogic judo misses a very salient point: TV is bad for you. It's bad for your mind, your body and your soul. Why is the government subsidizing something that, by almost all accounts, is detrimental to our health? Children spend 44.5 hours per week in front of screens [mediafamily.org] -- as much time as I spend at my job -- and the government is not only unconcerned they're funding this? Don't you see something wrong here?

      The posters who mentioned Bread & Circuses are right on. This is about pacifying the population. If we didn't have TV to numb our brains people might start to wake up to all the nefarious shit going on around us. Ideally, TV would be an excellent medium to tackle these social ills, but the mega-media-corps rarely seem to do so, especially when their own bottom line is at risk.

      Instead, we will all continue working all day, going home to veg for a few hours and then waking up and doing it again... and with our softened brains we'll never have time to ponder why a highly-advanced country like ours works so much, yet has so little to show for it (besides bigscreen TVs). With American Idol on we'll never deduce that the rich are stealing from us through inflation, real-estate boom & busts, taxes and other financial trickery that make it possible for the middle classes' earning power to actually decline [spectator.org] over the last 30 years despite the rich getting fantastically richer.

      We are being FUCKED. But most people are too hypnotized to notice.

  • by gillbates (106458) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:08PM (#18340317) Homepage Journal

    I can tell you the reason why the industry needs a subsidy:

    No one wants to pay for DRM.

    The market hasn't failed. Rather, the content companies have begun to realize that people don't want to pay more to get less.

    I mean, why would I buy a tv with fewer features?

    The content companies have begun to realize that they need to provide some kind of short-term incentive to get the customer to give up the rights to which they have become accustomed. Once the first generation grows up without the ability to record tv, they'll think it's normal. And the worst of it is that it isn't the content companies paying the bill, but the American taxpayer!

    With DTV, the public domain goes away. DRM isn't there to prevent some content from being rebroadcast; it is there to keep all content away from the net. Even things legally in the public domain.

    Call your Senator and tell him to oppose this bill. Tell him you don't want Congress wasting money...

    • by Junta (36770) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:18PM (#18340477)
      Ok, with the exception of the broadcast flag which has been struck down and not successfully resurrected, there is nothing of noteworthy DRM interest with respect to broadcast digital TV in how it compares to broadcast analog TV. The only thing people with antennas get different in broadcast TV is a signal that is perfect or *obviously* distorted. Depending on the quality of the set, the signal will most likely look better even than best-case analog signal.

      I use rabbit ears (well, hoop antenna) with my Mythbox and ATSC tuner card just freaking fine and record to my hearts content (it's technically easier/cheaper to implement a perfect ATSC capture card, than a decent analog capture card, a decent analog card needs some sort of on-the-fly encoding, ATSC card just need dump the MPEG2 stream out. I don't have any problem recording TV at all.

      Broadcast DTV is not DRM-encumbered at all. Cable companies enjoy a bit more DRM that is harder to break than their analog channel scrambling, but that is a moot point for ending analog broadcast TV and helping people to have the new standard accessible.
  • by kmac06 (608921) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:10PM (#18340341)
    I'm a small government, small federal budget kind of guy, and I rarely approve of federal spending, but this I agree with. If the government passes a law that makes my otherwise perfectly useful TV obsolete, they damn well better help me upgrade.
  • Bread an Circuses (Score:5, Insightful)

    by merreborn (853723) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:10PM (#18340349) Journal

    Beyond my disdain for most TV to begin with, I am blown away that with all of our current problems -- homelessness and crime on the home front, war fighting and terrorism abroad -- our government is seriously going to spend this much money on upgrading peoples' televisions.


    If you deny the peasants their bread and circuses [wikipedia.org], they might just up and start paying attention to the world around them, and realize that their government is whittling away their freedoms one by one.

    By the way, the plan to allocate these funds was announced back when the FCC announced plans to force migration to digital -- years ago.
  • Terrible (Score:5, Funny)

    by CODiNE (27417) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:10PM (#18340359) Homepage
    It's terrible terrible indeed, and I'll be signing up for my 2 vouchers as soon as I can.
  • Good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anti_Climax (447121) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:11PM (#18340373)

    Beyond my disdain for most TV to begin with, I am blown away that with all of our current problems -- homelessness and crime on the home front, war fighting and terrorism abroad -- our government is seriously going to spend this much money on upgrading peoples' televisions.
    Television has a bit more utility than just playing back $GENERIC_REALITY_SHOW$ while generating revenue from advertisement. It also provides a means for news (regardless of your take on it) and broadcast communication of the normal or emergency variety. Newspapers don't work for emergency broadcast. And if radios were to suddenly stop working (and carried a similar purchase cost for hardware) there would likely be a similar plan in place to keep the current ones functional with a new system.

    It's a good idea to keep signals available to current TV owners.
  • 1. TV is important since it is tells people what's going on
    2. Luxuries are important in modern society.
    3. It would be unfair on poor families to suddenly take away their TV service rather than take measures to rectify the situation.
    4. This only amounts to about $3.30 per US citizen.
    5. The money spent on this is not being taken out of crime prevention, housing, the military or anti-terrorism efforts. If they did not do this, we'd only see a tiny tax break.

    Seriously. It just doesn't work like that.
  • Sure the U.S. Federal government spends large amounts of money on some mind-boggling things, but this isn't one of them. They can make far far more than that selling [fcc.gov] the freed-up spectrum. At some point the foregone 'interest' (read debt avoidance) makes this buyout worth it, rather than just waiting for analog TV to die on it's own.

    The crazy thing is that they could just end analog TV and force everyone to buy one of these boxes, but there would be a huge outcry, so instead they give everyone a check
  • I'm sure LG had lobbyists pushing this.

    As far as handouts go, this pales in comparison to the many billions of dollars given to the phone companies to provide fiber into every home in the country. Foolishly, the government gave them the money first - so the fiber part was never built out.
  • There are some who think that free television does more to reduce crime than any other thing.
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:18PM (#18340471) Homepage

    homelessness and crime on the home front, war fighting and terrorism abroad -- our government is seriously going to spend this much money on upgrading peoples' televisions.

    First off, I do think this is an example of wasteful government largesse. But I really hate the given justification.

    How about, "Innocent people continue to be raped and murdered on their way home at night. And yet, the government continues to spend money on post office boxes. Is your child's life worth less than a post office box?"

    The notion that because something is very important that it therefore innately subsumes all lesser priorities is not consistent with any form of logical cost benefit analysis. Rarely if ever is there a linear relation to investment and payoff in terms of moneys allocated to resolving social issues, and the sort of qualitative analysis you mentally apply to "homelessness" vs. "television" is an irrational and inappropriate way to compare what is actually a quantitative analysis of "unit payoff per unit investment to resolve homeless" and the corresponding.

    Anyway, I think a better question than "how can the government waste money on instead of ?" might be "why do I trust the government to be responsible for these monies in the first place?" It's pretty much a given that, whatever Uncle Sam does 'for our own good' with our own money, ninety percent of us are going to pissed about it.

  • I thought that "rabbit ear" antennas could still receive the new digital broadcasts (the 2009 requirement)? You'd need to upgrade to a TV that can decode ATSC, or get one of those boxes...
  • Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man,
    the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time
    handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now
    restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things:
    bread and circuses [wikipedia.org]


  • As they say, there are two things you don't want to see being made. Law and sausage.

    This proposal goes way, way back.

    Part of Clinton's "balanced" budget (whatever "balanced" can be stretched to mean in the halls of gov't) was based on accelerating the switchover to digital and reaping the windfall from sale of the analog frequencies.

    But, some lawcritters argued, this would be an undue burden on the TV-addicted public.

    So they reached a compromise. Accelerate the sale but set aside some of the revenue to pay
  • by paul248 (536459) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @06:24PM (#18340551) Homepage
    You can still use the old rabbit ear antennas with an ATSC DTV decoder box. The digital channels are in the regular UHF band, so there's no need to get a different "omg DIGITAL!!" antenna.
  • by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <(sherwin) (at) (amiran.us)> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @07:00PM (#18340997) Homepage Journal
    Consider:
    1. The FCC controls airwave licenses.
    2. A significant number of people out there do not have the means, or rightfully refuse to upgrade to a television capable of decoding over the air digital signals.
    3. A significant number of people out there do not have the mans, or rightfully refuse to purchase cable and/or satellite service, yet they continue to watch TV via over the air signals.
    4. Eliminating analog over the air signals will open up gobs of frequencies for other uses; including 2-way communications, IP communications, and more digital channels, both TV and radio.
    5. Finally, $990 million is _nothing_ compared to how much auctioning off the new spectrum will generate in revenue for the FCC. The last auction generated something like $40 billion; $990 million in order to generate good will among the populace, and ensure that the working class (working poor) does not get cut off from their TV, is a win-win.

    If the government didn't have a plan like this, most likely the analog over-the-air signals would end up continuing. This is a *bad* thing, as that spectrum is very valuable, and being used inefficiently.

    Is this government intervention? Yes, of course it is. Unfortunately, this is a situation that libertarian's like myself have to learn to handle delicately, because it involves an actual *public* good, that being frequency spectrum.
  • by networkzombie (921324) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @07:17PM (#18341153)
    I thought the new Futurama episodes were going straight to DVD?
  • by chiph (523845) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @07:20PM (#18341187)
    Since there are no (to my knowledge) set-top boxes being actually manufactured in the US anymore (they all say "Made in China"), this program will simply result in a $1bn gift to the Chinese electronics industry.

    Chip H.
  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @08:03PM (#18341625)
    They are NOT "spending" the money. It's more like "investing". Once they get everyone off of those analog channels they can sell the newly freed up RF spectrum for a LOT more than $1,000,000,000. So by investing this money on converter boxes they get to auction off the old channels years earlier.

    A billion sound like a lot of money but in the US that amounts to less then four bucks per person.
  • by Wansu (846) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @08:23PM (#18341801)


    The govt may also be concerned about staving off a surge of TVs being disposed of. Even if affordable HDTVs become available, there will be people with TVs that can be used if they have a converter box. This is admittedly a secondary concern but one worth considering.

  • by wheatwilliams (605974) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @09:29PM (#18342359) Homepage
    Last August I purchased the only stand-alone external terrestrial digital TV receiver I could identify on the market. It's a Samsung unit, and it cost US $200.

    We don't have cable TV or satellite TV and we don't want it. I bought the Samsung unit to interface to a 32-inch Sony CRT television that is about twelve years old.

    All the stations in my area, save one, are already broadcasting both analog and digital. With digital, I get dramatically better picture quality, though it's harder to use because you tend to have to re-tune the antenna (see below) when you change channels, particularly between UHF and VHF (those distinctions persist into the digital realm, too).

    It takes some getting used to. When signals are weak, your TV displays weird freezing and pixellation, and the sound stutters. It's quite disconcerting at first.

    Somebody awhile back wrote that with digital broadcast TV, you either get a perfect display of the channel on your screen, or you get no image or sound at all. That's just not true. You always have to deal with the freezing, stuttering, distorted audio and pixellation, although if you are persistent, you can learn how to tune in each station correctly and the breakup happens far less often.

    And by the way, you still need the rabbit ears. Broadcast digital TV requires an antenna--the same kind of antenna required for broadcast analog TV.

    The main reason that the US government is starting this program is two-fold. First, broadcast television is where most citizens (who don't have cable or satellite) still get their news, and being able to hear the news daily is considered a part of participating in democracy. Second, Congress mandated the cessation of analog broadcast TV at the end of 2009, so Congress is placing a burden on some (mostly poor) citizens who could become disenfranchised from the democracy through not being able to watch news broadcasts on their TV as a direct result of Congress' actions.
  • by DaMattster (977781) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:22AM (#18345549)
    We have a large number of social-welfare problems, we cannot provide adequate care for our veterans, we have people living in the streets and we are thinking of handing out billions of dollars to help the HDTV revolution. This is an absolute obscenity. Few articles have made me angrier. I do not want my tax dollars going to fund someone else's entertainment. Everyday on the way to work, I have to pass a homeless man so underweight that he looks like my grandfather did after liberation from Dachau in WWII. His body looks so hollow you can see ribs through his shirt just as my grandfather was. Never mind that he may have alcohol or drug problems; no human being should ever, ever have to experience this. And everyday, I buy him some food as I do not know how to really help him and that, by proxy, makes me a small part of the problem. In America, we should not be seeing people like this. Finally, when I see fucked-up, lame-brained plans like god-damned HDTV incentives I just want to yell.
  • by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @08:25AM (#18346157)
    Senior citizen: Senator, I cannot afford to get my prescriptions on my Social Security check.
    Senator: Sorry, that's the breaks. Medicare only goes so far. Here, have a digital to analog television converter. That should make you feel better. Have a nice day!

I am here by the will of the people and I won't leave until I get my raincoat back. - a slogan of the anarchists in Richard Kadrey's "Metrophage"

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