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10/3/1999 -- 57 channels and nothing on

I don't have cable TV. It's not some moral opposition to the trashy programs on cable, and it's not because I don't want it. It's becuse cable TV is so damn expensive.

Monopolies seem rampant -- I'm stuck running Microsoft software in order to use all the hardware and software that I want, US West has control over my phonelines (regardless of any arguments about Macleod USA), NSP is my only alternative for power, and finally Cable One is my cable TV provider.

But, a monopolistic company always has an excuse -- I do have alternatives to cable TV if I don't want to pay Cable One $40 a month for average service, plus applicable hardware & installation costs. There is WantTV, which is an over-the-air "cable" service. They provide similar channels to Cable One, but the signals reach your house over microwave signals, sent by a repeater located near Rollag. Their service is decidedly cheaper, an acceptible $24 a month or so, but their service requires their hardware, and a special antenna, which need to be installed "line of sight" to the Rollag repeater. If you're like me, and live in an apartment building, you're going to have to pull some serious strings to get the owner of the building to allow installation of a large antenna. Plus, you're still subject to interference from weather, other microwave sources, and anything else between your antenna and Rollag.

You can also consider the digital sattelite services. Again, subject to paying for costly hardware and installation. Depending on the provider, you're looking again at around $30-$50 a month for their service. The quality is decidedly higher, and interference is lower due to the digital nature, but the cost to the consumer is significantly higher as well.

You last alternative, the one I opt for, is broadcast television. Cost to me has been a total of $50 for an amplified antenna. In this world where it's expected that you buy your free TV from a service provider, my apartment building doesn't even have an outdoor antenna. If you're lucky, when you move into a new apartment building, connecting your TV to the cable plug on the wall will get you signals from a large rooftop antenna. It was the case at my old building, but not here. An amplified antenna, even an omnidirectional antenna, is still subject to interference, and since I don't have the means to raise it over the surrounding trees & buildings, antennas that are not facing the same direction as my apartment (south) come in fuzzy, without color, or not at all. Right now, my antenna is delicately placed in the only position that will allow even reception of all channels.

You reaction is probably, "oh, what a shame! His daughter doesn't watch Nickelodeon, they can't watch CNN or The Learning Channel or Cartoon Network or Comedy Central or...." But you need to stop and think -- what exactly are we missing? I can't debate the benefits of the children's programming, news, and educational shows found on television, but you have to do something bad in order to partake in them. You have to sit down. TV demands attention, and it floods your senses, the two senses that humans have the most sensitivity in -- sight and sound. And, not only do you have to stop and direct your attention at TV, you can only do it within a short range of locations -- you're stuck in front of the TV. And, if you watch TV regularly, your TV is probably large and not something you can move form one place to another, and having more than one TV may give you more locales, but it still requires you to park yourself and ignore your surroundings.

Yeah, you can 'watch' TV while washing dishes, folding laundry, vaccuming, and so on, but what do you get? You either aren't really paying attention to the TV, or you're stopping your chores to pay more attention to the TV (which is usually my case). And, when you're bored, the immediate choice is to sit down and watch some TV.

The only alternatives for entertainment aren't broadcast TV, cable TV, sattelite TV, and any other incarnation of TV. Movies aren't any better, either, so that's not what I'm driving towards. If you like news, there's a wonderful free service -- National Public Radio. Here in Fargo, the NPR News station is 90.3FM, and there are other around the nation. The news isn't sensationalized, and it isn't broken up into 90 second segments. National Public Radio does a wonderful job taking the time they need, sometimes even 1/2 hour or 1 hour shows on single relevant and current news topics. Listening to NPR will show you why NPR writers & newscasters are so often chosen to participate in panels on CNN and other news programs. For more alternative radio sources, flip through the AM band for a while. 550AM is an excellent news station from Winnipeg, and on the talk radio stations you have plenty of programs to chooose from. Music oriented radio stations have moved away from programming "shows", but talk oriented stations still adhere to similar programming practices as television. If you don't like the show that's on now, change the channel, and come back in an hour or so. You may also go even further and get yourself a world-band radio. Stations from all over the world broadcast these international radio programs, in English and many other languages, and if you'd like to stay with American-originated proadcasts, try and find Voice of America. If content isn't something you're interested in, just turn on the radio. Pick your favorite music station, and listen to that.

Or -- better yet -- turn off outside influences all together. If you're bored, then you're doing something wrong, and probably not doing anything at all. After years of being trained to sit and absord what TV was showing you, the population on a whole has forgotten how to keep themselves occupied. Why not plant a $0.10 pack of seeds, vacuum more often, not let the dishes sit dirty anymore, read a book, go for a walk, sit and watch the fish (or go buy fish), build a model, put together a puzzle, go visit friends, go dig around thrift shops for stuff, write in a journal, and any number of other things. Without TV, spare time increases by leaps and bounds. I was forced into it by not being able to afford cable TV, and probably wouldn't have if I could afford it. But, in the interest of being productive, I suggest cancelling your cable service. Cancelling your cable TV still leaves you with TV available when you really need it, to catch Friends once in a while or watch the news at breakfast, but it saves you the $40 a month (do you realize that you spend $400-$500 a year for TV?) in pay TV service, and gives you a chance to do something productive with yourself. My suggestions may not be the best, but having free time lets each individual figure it out for themselves.

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