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04.28.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Broadcasters and FCC mismanaged DTV transition, Consumer Federation says

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) - the nation’s largest consumer advocacy group - has criticized TV broadcasters’ “widespread failure to provide programming and adequate signal strength for digital broadcasts” and the FCC’s “lack of stewardship in managing the most valuable public property of the digital age.”

In comments to the FCC on the second review of the DTV transition, the CFA said the taxpayers’ “$70 billion gift to broadcasters” has gone to waste. “The people own the airwaves, which have been valued as high as $70 billion,” said Mark Cooper, CFA director of research, “and when the broadcasters were given the right to use it for free, the FCC was supposed to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to digital television.

“In truth, the FCC has let the industry drag its feet for so long there is no transition to digital TV - there is just a patchwork of hit-and-miss conversions of occasional signals, without full power.”

The consumer group said that of the nation’s 1304 commercial broadcasters, only 347 broadcasters currently operate full-power DTV facilities. Low-power stations are not fully replicating their analog service contours in digital, which means that some percentage of homes within their analog service area cannot receive their digital signal.

“It is time for the FCC to take back the spectrum and put it to better uses, like Wi-Fi and other unlicensed wireless applications, which are growing like wildfire,” Cooper said.

CFA also expressed concern over public interest obligations in the digital age. The public interest Notice of Inquiry is now three years old and the Commission admits that the record is so stale that it must be refreshed, the group said.

“The FCC’s abysmal stewardship of digital spectrum is nowhere more evident than in its failure to articulate a set of public interest standards to apply to this remarkably valuable public asset,” said Cooper. “Broadcasters are clearly falling short, and the FCC must no longer allow them to stall in performing their piece of the transition equation.”

The CFA noted that broadcasters are also lobbying the FCC to implement additional anti-consumer provisions. “Rather than fighting for an industrial policy like the broadcast flag, which will severely limit consumer home recording rights, broadcasters should focus on fulfilling their part of the bargain,” Cooper said.

The full text of the CFA’s comments is available at www.consumerfed.org.

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