The Bottom Line / Power to the People, Baby

In another 12 days, on August 7, the cabinet will vote on a long list of reforms as part of the 2006 budget. One of the more interesting reforms relates to receiving television broadcasts.

In another 12 days, on August 7, the cabinet will vote on a long list of reforms as part of the 2006 budget. One of the more interesting reforms relates to receiving television broadcasts.

The current situation is unbearable. There are five public television channels that every citizen pays for, either through the television license fee directed to the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) - NIS 409 a year - or by being forced to watch advertisements. We are talking about channels 1, 2, 10, 33 and 99.

Under the present regime, if you want to watch one of these channels - which you have already paid for! - you must pay again, either to the cable or the satellite broadcasting companies, for the connection. Neither the cable companies or the satellite firm is willing to sell you just these five channels. They force you to buy a package of 35 channels in order to justify payment for their "basic package" - which costs NIS 2,238 a year.

If you try to receive these five channels without connecting through the cable or satellite broadcasting companies, you will find that it is very expensive and basically impossible. You will have to buy a number of antennas and satellite dishes, because each channel broadcasts in a different fashion. In fact, in some areas in the periphery you cannot receive some of the broadcasts at all - even if you were to install all the antennas or satellite dishes in the world.

In order to operate all these strange and various transmissions, the Communications Ministry wastes some NIS 100 million every year maintaining and operating the transmitters. Therefore, from any viewpoint, we have an absurd situation that requires change.

The problem is well known all over the world. In other countries they have already decided to allow free reception of all public broadcasts by all citizens. And it so happens that in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Japan, there are already ground-based digital broadcasting arrays that solve the problem.

This is also the proposed solution for us in Israel: building a ground-based digital broadcasting array so that every citizen who wants can watch the public channels: 1, 2, 10, 33, 99.

In order to receive the broadcasts on your own, all that would be required is purchasing a small receiver box that would attach to your home television - at a one time price of about NIS 500. You could receive high quality broadcasts of the five channels, anywhere in the country, through the little box, with no need for the cable or satellite companies - and at a huge saving.

The cable and satellite companies are fighting this proposal with all their might - and they certainly are not lacking in power with our politicians. They want to stop technology and halt progress - just like the wagon drivers who fought against the horseless carriage.

They don't want to lose even a single subscriber to the "basic package." They refuse to let anyone give up their soap operas and game shows and settle for only the five public channels.

The time has come to explain to them who exactly they are screwing over. According to research on the matter, it turns out that among the upper decile of the population, there is almost 100 percent television ownership, of whom 90 percent are connected to cable or satellite broadcasts. On the other hand, among the lowest decile, 80 percent of household have a television - but only 35 percent are connected to cable or satellite. This is simply because they can't afford to hook up and spend NIS 186.50 a month - NIS 2,238 a year.

Therefore, ground-based digital broadcasts for the five channels is a social act of major significance. And because we are certain that the Communications Minister, Dalia Itzik, and the Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are enthusiastic supporters of the weaker classes, we have no doubt that they will support this proposal when it is discussed in the cabinet in 12 days time.

Obviously, it is inconceivable that they would ever think to take the side of the wealthy.