EDITOR'S COLUMN: Going digital is tempting

I was tempted to go digital. For only a few dollars more a month, I could subscribe to something to get my fingers moving in the morning. Oops. Wrong definition. What I could have got was the digital starter cable television package from AT&T Broadband, but the latest price increases advertised in Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times brought me to my senses. Not only do I not want digital starter, but I don’t want most of what I have now.

I temporarily lost my senses and called about going digital starter, and was told that they’d have to come and put a box on my TV. Then I could pay for movies without going to the video store. Trouble is, I presently rent maybe one movie a month. Digital starter would tempt me into renting more, with all the movies scrolling down the screen with their tantalizing, 15-word descriptions alongside. If you want great writing that’s short, who needs haiku? Just read the movie describers. They can make a box office bomb sound like the second coming of Citizen Kane with only a dozen words. I could even watch Fast Times at Porn University, which was Monday night’s featured porn movie. Who would ever have thought that AT&T, once lovingly referred to as Ma Bell, would be offering porn in the living rooms of the nation? Guess we’ll have to call her Madam Bell from now on.

The way AT&T packages TV, they make you want more and more when, in truth, you’ve already got too much. Digital starter is designed to get you hooked. The real excitement apparently starts at the next level, digital bronze, continuing through digital silver, digital gold, digital platinum and the ultimate, Total TV where, presumably, your head is wired directly into the cable and you change channels by twitching your nose. Each level costs $5 or $10 more than the prior level, until you TV bill rivals your mortgage when you include all those pay-per-view porn movies.

Despite the temptations of pursuing a path toward Total TV, my needs are more modest. Trouble is, AT&T’s packagers made my goal impossible to achieve. I want what I used to have from cable TV: the broadcast channels plus ESPN, CNN and C-Span. No doubt thousands of people wanted the same, which is why a few years ago AT&T conspired to take it way from us. They took the former basic cable channels -- what can be more basic than ESPN, CNN and C-SPAN? -- and put them on “standard cable.” For “basic cable,” all we get is the broadcast channels, which costs $13.85 outside of Oak Harbor. It costs $33.75 for standard, which includes the three cable channels I want and a ton of junk. So ESPN, CNN and C-SPAN are costing me $20 a month when they used to be part of basic cable. Remember when AT&T used to help us reach out and touch somebody? Now they reach out and grab our wallets.

With yet another cable TV price increase in the works, now would be the time to cut back to just basic service. But I’d sure miss ESPN with baseball season only a few months away, and C-SPAN has political coverage and Book Notes you can’t find anywhere else, and I’ll need CNN when the second Gulf War starts. So I’ll probably pay up, taking whatever solace I can in refraining from going digital.

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