Monday, June 8, 2009

Barbara Eliasson's digital confrontation

"No Longer Free in a Digital World"


Barbara Eliasson

June 7th, 2009

The New York Times

HERE we were, my two television sets and I, happily growing older together. But then, with one act of Congress and one presidential signature, all three of us became obsolete. No election. No referendum. Not even a chance, as consumers, to decide whether we prefer digital to analog TV.

I huffed, I puffed, I procrastinated and, finally, I considered my options: Get a converter box; buy two new TVs; subscribe to cable.

At first, I chose the converter box. It was cheap, and I kept my TV sets. I watched an online video with instructions for connecting the box. The process was more complicated than I thought, and there was a risk of dropped stations.

The second option, buying two televisions, was not only expensive, but wasteful. Overnight, my two functioning machines would turn into scrap. I resisted.

So, it was Option No. 3: cable. Of three possibilities, I called the first cable company, gave my address and ZIP code and was told it did not, in fact, service my area.

At the second, I spoke to someone who was not sure whether his company covered my neighborhood and was unwilling to find out. I said, "Thank you," and hung up.

Two months earlier, a representative from the third company had come to my door. I had not yet made a decision (I still had so much time!), so he left his card. Now, though, June 12, the conversion deadline, was days away.

I called him; he came back to my house. He was a personable, reassuring young man — until we came to prices. He gave me a quote. It was more than double the amount on the company's Web site. I protested; he backtracked.

His figure, he explained, was for the extended package, not for the bare-bones coverage I wanted. How about a package that included telephone and Internet? Much cheaper. No, I said, I liked my phone service. Well, then, the installation charge he quoted did not apply: It would be 75 percent more. I could live with that; it was a one-time charge. Then he came up with a possible deal breaker: he wanted my Social Security number. "No," I said, "I wouldn't even give that to the pope." It was his turn to compromise; he did.

The installer is scheduled for a visit in a few days. After he has come and gone, I hope that watching television will be the same glitch-free experience it has always been. But there will be at least one difference: It will no longer be free.

Every month, as I write my check, I’ll be reminded of those interfering government officials who forced me into paying for what I never wanted.

[Barbara Eliasson is a writer and former college teacher who lives in the Norwood section of the Bronx.]

Digital is near

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