Monday, April 29, 2013

Free TV blogging -- collateral damage

For those of you who tuned in late to the TV debate, so far we've talked about how well over-the-air television compares to cable (for some people), how new and apparently successful businesses are springing up around OTA, and how the number of viewers getting their television through antennas appears to have been growing substantially since the introduction of digital. What we haven't covered so far is the potential social impact of killing broadcast television.

It is almost axiomatic that, if you have a resource that is used in one way by people at the top of the economic ladder and in another way by people on the bottom and you "let the market decide" what to do with the resource, it will go with the people who have the money. I'm sure many if not most of the readers here could explain it better than I can (econ is not my field), but the problem comes from the fact we're talking about absolute rather than relative money. People at the bottom may be willing to spend a larger portion off their income on the resource but it's a larger portion of a much smaller total.

This becomes particularly troubling when we're talking about a publicly held resource. When we consider selling off a piece of public property, we can't just assume that whoever is willing to pay the most will put it to the best use. By that standard, there would be no roads, parks or libraries in poor neighborhoods. Things used by the wealthy will always come out ahead.

Instead we need to think about who uses the resource now and how their lives will change if that resource is sold off. What groups rely heavily on broadcast television? What groups would have the most difficulty finding alternatives?

People in the bottom one or two deciles are going to be in trouble. Even the lowest tier of cable would represent a significant monthly expense.

People with limited residential security will be even worse off.

People with limited income security will face a difficult choice: sign up for exorbitant no-contract plans or commit to a financial obligation they may not be able to fulfill.

People with poor credit histories will have to come up with large deposits every time they move.

I have no idea what the unbanked would go about getting cable.

Keep in mind, all of these groups will have comparable or greater difficulty getting access to high speed internet service.

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