1. I genuinely like the product
I get my television through an antenna on the top of my set and I can't think of a purchase I've been happier with. The picture is DVD quality and I get over a hundred channels, some of them very good, all for free.
2. It provides an excellent service for people who could use something nice
It has always sucked to be poor but in recent years we seemed determined to make it suck worse. Over the air digital television bucks that trend. Anyone with an old TV, a second hand converter box and a set of dollar store rabbit ears can have a source of entertainment, news and education (I get ten PBS channels). That may not seem like much to you but to a lot of people in this country, it can be a major improvement in quality of life.
3. There are other people trying to take that service away
Some would like to sell off the part of the spectrum used for television. Economist Richard Thaler even wrote a New York Times op-ed on the subject, explaining how the sale could solve virtually all of society's ill. Think I'm exaggerating?
Here's a list of national domestic priorities, in no particular order: Stimulate the economy, improve health care, offer fast Internet connections to all of our schools, foster development of advanced technology. Oh, and let’s not forget, we’d better do something about the budget deficit.(I'm tempted to go off on multiple tangents here about how these sales of public land of have a way of going badly for the government and the tax payer, or how the VHF part of the spectrum isn't actually that useful for mobile applications, or how oblivious men like Thaler are to what life is like in the bottom decile, but Rajiv Sethi has already written the definitive rebuttal so I'll just leave it with a link and a recommendation to follow it.)
Now, suppose that there were a way to deal effectively with all of those things at once, without hurting anyone... I know that this sounds like the second coming of voodoo economics, but bear with me. This proposal involves no magical thinking, just good common sense: By simply reallocating the way we use the radio spectrum now devoted to over-the-air television broadcasting, we can create a bonanza for the government, stimulate the economy and advance all of the other goals listed above. Really.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, I very much doubt that this idea simply popped into Thaler's head. We live in an age subsidized discourse. Whenever you read a news story or opinion piece that seems to come from a lobbyist's desk, you can generally assume that it originally did. I'm not saying that Thaler was paid to hold these opinions -- I'm sure he wasn't -- but I'll bet good money that the experts he relied on were, either directly on indirectly.
There is a huge imbalance of money in this conflict. A number of big and deep-pocketed corporations are gunning for OTA broadcasters. Some would like to carve up the spectrum. Other would just like to get rid of the competition.
4. Competition is good
And over-the-air television plays a vital role in maintaining competition in the world of live TV. If access is limited to cable/phone lines and satellite, the business will always be dominated by a handful of very big and powerful companies and since these companies fall in the middle of the supply chain, we have to worry about both monopolistic and monopsonistic effects.
The industry currently runs on the up-sell model: get people in the door with a twenty or thirty dollar a month plan (sometimes helped along with some opaque pricing), then make the package crappy enough to get people to move up to a more expensive tier. OTA television presents a potentially deadly threat to that model because, in most markets, OTA is actually better than cable's basic package. It has more channels, better content and less compression (this may be less applicable to satellite). Cable has been able to ignore this threat up until now because most consumers are unaware of what they can get for free, but if word gets out cable companies will have to start giving customers considerably more value for their money.
5. There's a story here
And it has been woefully under-reported. New technology. New markets. Small but smart players like Weigel Broadcasting coming up with innovative business models and easily lapping major media companies. For me that's way more interesting than reading about Facebook throwing money at some business problem.
(also posted at MippyvilleTV)