Much is at stake for democracy in transition to digital TV

The decisions Congress makes this fall will affect us all

When Congress returns to Washington next month from its summer break, it is poised to make decisions on communications policy that will affect every American family and community for years to come. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, many people are in the dark about these policy decisions, and their future impact.

The context for the congressional activity is the transition from analog to digital TV. Congress is trying to complete the transition from analog to digital TV, which delivers movie-quality pictures and sounds, and makes it possible for one TV station to broadcast more efficiently, sending five or more streams of programming in the broadcast space where only one program could be aired today.

That changeover opens the door to important public policy questions, such as how the public interest will best be served as more channels become available.

Will Congress ensure that the public gets to use the public resource of the publicly owned airwaves? And will Congress require that broadcasters, set to benefit substantially from a new way of broadcasting TV signals, start paying more than lip service to their obligation to serve the public interest?

Common Cause believes the transition from analog to digital TV should mean that the public gets more: better quality TV pictures, and more programming that serves our needs for information on our local communities. It should also mean that the public airwaves could be used to make access to the Internet more available at low cost to rural, low-income and minority households, and to small businesses. This new technology could better inform and empower all Americans, and give the opportunity to prosper in this new information age to all of us, regardless of our race, ethnic backgrounds, income level, or the remoteness of where we live.

“The transition to digital could be a boon for democracy, if Congress keeps in mind its first duty is to serve the public interest, not special interests,” said Common Cause President and CEO Chellie Pingree.

“As Congress makes important policy decisions about this transition, our elected officials must do all they can to ensure that low-income and minority families are not shut out of new technology, and that we find ways to encourage diversity of voices and more information to help citizens fully participate in their government.”

We have written a six-page edit memo on this subject, and hope that you will read it and consider writing an editorial to educate your readers on this important subject. You can view the edit memo by clicking here:

See More: Media & Democracy