DIGITAL STRATEGIESTauzin Team Speaks Out At DTV Summit

washington, dc--The Chairman and aides of the House Energy and Commerce Committee warned participants of the Consumer Electronics Association's annual DTV summit this year they will not wait long for the parties involved to enable the full transition to digital. Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) noted in his opening speech that regardless of continuing progress in roundtable talks with the industries, a lot of work remains to be done "with respect to speeding the transition to digital television." He underscored that comment by later introducing a bill (H.R. 4560) to delay indefinitely the June 19 auction set by the FCC for channels 52-69 for non-broadcast usage.

Tauzin also said that if the cable, broadcasting, consumer electronics, and movie industries do not cooperate more on issues such as copyright protection and standardization of digital set-top boxes, Congress would look into legislatively solving those problems.

Andy Levin, counsel to the Democrats on Tauzin's committee, also voiced concerns about the transition. He said that even though 85 percent penetration of American households by digital signals is set as the point broadcasters must give up their analog spectrum, members of Congress are going to begin questioning that number. He predicted that as the deadline nears, there will be increasing concern over the 15 percent of the population stranded without access to a TV signal as of January 1, 2007. "That translates into a lot of votes," he noted.

Jessica Wallace, Levin's counterpart for the majority Republicans, threatened more congressional involvement in the cable compatibility issue if the cable industry does not get more involved in finding a solution.

Rick Chessen, chairman of the FCC's DTV Task Force and leader of its "hoedown" meetings with industry representatives, said his panel intends to place more emphasis on consumers' ability to plug cable into their sets and play programming without a lot of complicated gadgetry. He noted that FCC Chairman Michael Powell's April 4 DTV plan calls on cable to start deploying set-top boxes in a consumer-friendly way. "That could happen tomorrow," he said.

But Levin criticized the agency for not getting the job done. Powell's plan is only voluntary, he said, and offers no comfort to consumers that the equipment they are buying will give them the HDTV access they expect.

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