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Students will be introduced to the mandate for digital TV transmission by 2006, consider the implications this mandate will have for the environment (negative externalizes), and evaluate possible solutions to this "problem".

KEY CONCEPTS

Choice, Cost/Benefit Analysis, Decision Making, Externalities, Regulation, Role of Government, Taxation

STUDENTS WILL

  • To identify the costs and benefits of the transition to digital TV transmission
  • Evaluate alternative solutions to the problem created by this transition.

INTRODUCTION

Students will be introduced to the mandate for digital TV transmission by 2006, consider the implications this mandate will have for the environment (negative externalizes), and evaluate possible solutions to this "problem". THINK ABOUT IT questions follow each section. A culminating activity requires students to identify costs and benefits to society and consider using government regulation as a correction. Catoon T.V.

The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that by the year 2006 all TV transmission will be digital. Most homes in the United States have more than one television set and most of those sets are analog, not digital. Analog TVs are not capable of receiving digital transmission.

MATERIALS


PROCESS

Activity 1

  1. What will happen to all of the analog TVs after 2006 when they are no longer useful?

    [They will be thrown out.]

[Note to teacher: For the full text of the FCC's consumer bulletin on digital TV go to transition.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Engineering_Technology/News_Releases/1998/nret8015.html ]

According to the Federal Communication Commission's November 1998 "Digital Television Consumer Information" bulletin, digital television will "...allow television to enter the digital world of the personal computer and the Internet."

With digital transmission a TV broadcaster will be able to:

  • send multiple programming at the same time over the same channel,
  • improve the quality of the transmission with options not available with analog transmission,
  • offer digital data services which will allow the TV broadcaster to send out virtual newspapers and other types of services directly to your TV.

Activity 2Tape

  1. Have you ever listened to music on a cassette player? What about a CD player? Is there a difference between the quality and options of these two types of electronic devices?

    [Most students will recognize the quality differences between these devices which would include the richness of the audio and the ability to move to different songs when using CDs.]
     
  2. How is the difference between analog and digital TV similar to the difference between cassettes and CDs?

    [Digital TV will provide better quality video and more options.]

Teacher: The following program can be listened to using RealAudio. There is also a written transcript that can be read.

The "problem" is that when people switch from their old analog TVs to the new digital TVs those old analog TVs will be thrown out.

Did you know that there are parts of a TV that are very toxic to the environment. Listen to this Living on Earth segment on the environmental hazards of TV disposal :"Toxic Television Disposal": Living on Earth 2/18/00. www.loe.org/shows/shows.htm?programID=00-P13-00007#feature3

Activity 3

  1. How many analog TVs are there in the United States?

    [250 million]

  2. TV recycling is expensive. Why?

    [TV recycling is a labor-intensive process. It takes 11 men to disassemble 20 television sets in a day. That's 12,500,000 days to recycle 250 million TVs. If each man earned $5.00 an hour and each day of work was 8 hours, the cost of recycling 250 million TVs would be $5.5 trillion.]

  3. What is the cost to society if TVs are not recycled?

    [If the toxic materials used in TVs such as lead, cadmium and mercury are not carefully removed by hand it could lead to groundwater and air contamination.]

  4. In Europe, the governments require the auto manufacturers to "take back" cars for recycling. Why do you think governments require companies to do this?

    [Cars contain materials that are hazardous to the environment and are very costly to recycle. The government requires the car manufacturer to pay for the recycling so recycling costs become a part of the total cost of producing a car and are paid by the producer not by society. ]
     
  5. Would a "take back" program make both consumers and producers think more seriously about the disposal of old TVs?

    [With a "take back" program, producers' costs would increase to include the costs to society of the disposal of television sets. This would be transmitted to the market by a decrease in supply. A decrease in supply would put upward pressure on the market price. Consumers' serious thoughts would be demonstrated in a decrease in the quantity of television sets demanded at the higher market price.]

  6. The electronics industry opposes "take back" regulations. How effective do you think a voluntary "take back" program between business and the community would be?

    [The real question to consider is who has any incentive to get the job done if the job is voluntary.]
     
  7. Is Envirocycle a government required program, a voluntary program between business and the community, or a private for-profit business?Television

    [It is a private for-profit business.]

ASSESSMENT ACTIVITY

We have a problem!

Millions of analog TVs are going to be thrown out in the next decade and someone is going to have to pay. If these TVs are not safely recycled their disposal will cause damage to the environment. Who should pay for analog TV disposal?

  • Who should pay for analog TV disposal?
  • The people who are throwing the TVs away?
  • The companies that originally manufactured the TVs?
  • Taxpayers?

Should those paying be forced to do so through taxation or government regulation or should they be encouraged through education and information programs?

  • Should the local government charge higher refuse taxes to those disposing of analog TVs?
  • Should the state or federal government place strict "take back" regulations on TV manufacturers?
  • Should communities devise their own plans of voluntary "take back" using schools and other community organizations to inform the public?

Evaluate the following alternative solutions to this problem.

1. Print and complete the following table by identifying the costs and benefits to society of each possible solution.

Here is a link to the chart below in the form of a student handout. Problem: WHO should pay for analog TV disposal? HOW? (Printable Version)

Problem: WHO should pay for analog TV disposal? HOW?

Alternative Solution 1: What are the costs to society of this solution? What are the benefits to society of this solution?
The local government charges higher refuse taxes to those disposing of analog TVs.    
Alternative Solution 2: What are the costs to society of this solution? What are the benefits to society of this solution?
The government place strict "take back" regulations on TV manufacturers.    
Alternative Solution 3: What are the costs to society of this solution? What are the benefits to society of this solution?
Communities devise their own voluntary "take back" plans.    
Alternative Solution 4: What are the costs to society of this solution? What are the benefits to society of this solution?
Do nothing. When damage to the environment occurs taxpayers can pay for the cleanup costs.    

2. Which solution provides the most benefit at the least cost to society?
3. Enter your choice in the following survey and compare it to the choices made by other students who have completed this lesson.

Take Survey

EXTENSION ACTIVITY

  1. Contact your local cable provider and ask what the provider's plans are for digital television conversion.
  2. Contact your local recycling center and inquire about TV recycling. Does the center pick up TVs for free? How does the center dispose of TV sets it picks up?
  3. Contact a retail outlet that sells televisions? Does it sell digital TVs? Are more people buying digital TVs?
  4. Complete a neighborhood survey of TV ownership and knowledge of the digital TV transmission switch in 2006.
  5. Contact a U.S. Senator or congressional representative and inquire as to his or her position on "take back" requirements for TV manufacturers.
  6. Develop other solutions that a community might consider as they begin the process of dealing with this disposal issue.

EDUCATOR REVIEWS

  • “I'm not a teacher, but am using the information and questions to spark ideas for a project I'm doing in grad school on this topic. The project is a Video Ethnography regarding consumer sustainability with respect to the DTV transition. Not only will we assess the awareness of consumers, but also their willingness to do something about the environmental concerns of TVs as trash. Thanks for the various questions and ideas to ponder!”

    Mary Ann, Georgetown University   POSTED ON January 21, 2008

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