Congress pushes FCC

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a meeting in late October on how to speed up the DTV transition. In attendance were Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA).

The broadcast industry was represented by NAB president Edward Fritts, NCTA president Robert Sachs, CEA president Gary Shapiro, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, and former FCC head Richard Wiley.

According to Tauzin's spokesperson, Ken Johnson, the group discussed a wide range of issues, including digital must-carry, the transition deadline and copy protection, and will meet again in a few weeks to offer specific suggestions for broadcasters and to discuss Congress' role in the transition.

In 1997, Markey set a time frame of January 2002 for TV sets to have the capability to display digital signals. With the new impetus, the time frame might pack more weight, allowing consumers to reap the benefits of the superior digital technology.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said, “The DTV transition is a massive and complex undertaking. Although I'm often asked what the FCC is going to do to ‘fix’ the DTV transition, I believe that a big part of the problem is the unrealistic expectations set by the 2006 target date for return of the analog spectrum.” This is unlikely to hold much weight with many on Capitol Hill.

The FCC has established a task force headed by Mass Media Bureau Associate Chief Rick Chessen in an effort to kick-start the seemingly stalemated transition. The task force is charged with reviewing the ongoing transition to DTV and making recommendations to the commission concerning priorities to facilitate the transition and promote the rapid recovery of broadcast spectrum for other uses.

Joining Chessen will be members from the Cable Bureau, the Mass Media Bureau (MMB), the Office of Engineering & Technology, and the Office of Plans & Policy (OPP). An ad hoc advisory group, consisting of FCC staff from the Consumer Information Bureau, the Office of the General Counsel, the MMB, the OPP, and the International Bureau, was created to assist the task force. The key member missing is a real-world broadcaster!

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