When TV Switches to Digital, it May Alienate Rural Communities

October 22 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Communication   Year: 2009   Rating: 3 Hot

It has been estimated that about three million TV viewers will let their sets go black when the digital conversion takes place next February. “Approximately three million viewers could stop watching their local channels, which would have a serious impact on local TV ratings and their advertising rates.” About nine million people today have yet to make the conversion to digital broadcasting.

So what about rural areas of America?

Internet is already hard to get in places “out in the boonies.” Some use the words Digital Divide to describe third world countries and their lack of technology. What people fail to realize is that there are places in America that are likewise impoverished.

In an article about the town of Grove, New York, reporter Stephen Watson explains how small towns like these are lacking high-speed internet, cable, and even cellphone service. “They are part of a growing digital divide between those with access to cutting-edge technology and those without, a gap that cuts along demographic, economic and geographic lines.” When you consider how much work is done on the internet these days, it really has become a lifeline for many people in remote locations.

I myself grew up in a town not fifteen minutes from Oakland, and yet we had access to nothing other than dial-up internet. Not having a source of information from the outside world can make one feel pretty disconnected. You end up relying on AM radio (which explains why I love NPR and Paul Harvey).

TV has been the one thing remote communities can rely on for information — those that fail to make the switch could be made even more isolated.

But there is hope. With Sony unleashing WiMax onto the city of Baltimore, it could help further the trend of a world going entirely wireless. Rural communities may find themselves the testing ground of cutting-edge wireless technology in the next five to ten years.

In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see what lack of TV will do to some of these already information deprived areas. Maybe it will spur a Luddite revolt. Radio could become king again (imagine a fireside chat with our new President). We may not see the effects for a few years, but I bet it will be interesting.

Image: James Good (Flickr, CC-Attribution)

Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. Availability of high speed internet may be a problem in remote areas. But I don’t understand why would you assume that people living there are so retarded that they will not be able to use a simple digital converter box.

    Posted by: johnfrink   October 23, 2008
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  2. The problem isn’t that they’re unable to work a digital converter box, it’s just that they don’t want to get one. Whether they don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting the vouchers or are planning on getting a new TV with a digital converter is yet to be seen. Maybe, like the original article, they’re just going to let their TV go black.

    Posted by: John Heylin   October 23, 2008
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  3. I imagine it will take some time, but I think the vast majority of people will catch up and get a converter or a new TV. I think it is much more likely that the conversion will create higher demand for good internet services for those that don’t have it, than it is to cause some kind of luddite movement. Still the digital divide is interesting and I wonder how quickly it will be solved.

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   October 23, 2008
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