GAO: Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

January 18, 2003
On December 2, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report to Congressman Ed Markey entitled, “Additional Federal Efforts Could Help Advance Digital Television Transition” ( The report, as picked up by newspapers such as USA Today, said that most consumers are unaware of the DTV transition, that few people own DTV equipment, and that cable and satellite digital carriage is limited.

Duh—our tax dollars hard at work.

In an informal survey, I asked a few non-industry friends if they knew about the DTV transition. The answer, for the most part, was a predictable “no.” Then I asked if they knew what high definition or HDTV was. The answer, for the most part, was “yes.” It seems there’s a disconnect between the DTV transition and HDTV.

People love HDTV. They might not be able to afford it, but they love it.

Case in point: At The Shops at Georgetown Park, in Washington, DC, folks stood fixated, gawking at the picture quality on an HDTV set placed there by the NAB as part of its digital TV awareness campaign. As part of the campaign, Washington, DC was named a “Digital TV Zone” by Mayor Anthony Williams, celebrating the leadership of local broadcasters and retailers in the transition to DTV.

But folks at Georgetown Park didn’t care about that. All they cared about was the cool HD images. They couldn’t care less about the digital transition. The same goes for the folks watching the HDTVs in my local Wal-Mart.

Personally, I don’t care either. From a TV viewer perspective, all I want is HD. I don’t care about transitions, modulation formats, must-carry, digital rights management, or anything that we as professionals must care about. I just want to turn on my HD set and see HD...on cable, satellite, over the air, whatever.

GAO Recommendations

All of this, of course, is because of that December 2006 deadline—an unrealistic date derived from the need to auction off as much spectrum as possible as soon as possible. Forget about the fact that from a historical perspective the transition is right on target (see Mark Schubin’s “Final Thought” in this issue). This is about the federal budget, so common sense goes out the window.

But on to the GAO’s recommendations (actually, policy questions to think about), which took into account the FCC’s DTV tuner requirements:

* Should new sets be capable of receiving digital signals via cable “digital cable-ready?”
* Should a fixed date “must-carry” switchover from a broadcaster’s analog to digital signal for carriage (no dual analog/digital carriage) be set?
* Should the government explore options to raise public awareness about the DTV transition and its implications?


Michael Silbergleid is the editor. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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