What time is lights out, Senator?

Sometime between December 2008 and April 2009, the federal government will require traditional broadcaster to use digital signals rather than broadcasting over the current analog spectrum. After recapturing the spectrum, the government will then auction the spectrum. Who will buy, I have no idea, but the government expects the auction to generate $10 billion, which the government can then use to pay down debt waste somewhere else. Senator Ted Stevens has an opinion on where part of that $10 billion should go. Consider:

What’s it worth to make sure nothing gets between Americans and their TV sets?

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) thinks $3 billion is about right. That’s what he proposed yesterday to spend to make sure TVs don’t go blank when broadcasters switch to digital signals in about four years.

The money would subsidize the cost of set-top boxes to convert digital signals to play on the old analog sets that millions of people without cable or satellite TV rely on. Under Stevens’s proposal, people would make a $10 co-payment for the boxes and the government would absorb the rest of the cost. The cash would come from an estimated $10 billion to be raised from auctioning the spectrum when analog broadcasts end.

Why exactly is the government playing this shell game? I have a television capable of receiving digital signals, so I won’t need a converter. Someone who can’t afford a new television will pay his $10 co-payment and still be able to watch his favorite programs. This doesn’t require a tax on me, of course, but it is still redistributionist nonsense. If the government wants to argue that the airwaves belong to the public, I own a portion of the airwaves. When the government takes my portion of the eventual auction and offers it to someone else, rather than using the money for a legitimate government need, I incur a tax burden I shouldn’t have to incur. This program is laughable. Senator Stevens is a hack. And the United States is replacing capitalism with a nanny state. Ridiculous.

The only bright spot in this is that I can’t decide who gets the quote of the day award, Rep. Lee Terry for this:

“It is not a constitutional right to own and watch a TV. . . . I can’t envision that we’d go for a number that’s triple what was our upper end.”

or Rep. Jeff Flake for this:

“What’s next, $40 to upgrade people’s iPod Mini to the Nano?” Flake said.

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