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Advocacy group calls on Congress to let satellite providers re-broadcast distant DTV signals

In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee supporting the re-authorization of the 1999 Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (SHVIA), Council for Citizens Against Government Waste president Tom Schatz, called for an amendment to allow digital broadcast satellite providers to re-broadcast digital signals.

In part the letter said:

The United States is undergoing a dramatic technological evolution in telecommunications. This transformation should include a speedy transition from analog TV to DTV, which offers higher quality pictures and better sound. However, this transition is stifled because of current government policy.

In 1996 and 1997, with the passage of the Telecommunications Act and the Balanced Budget Act, the outline for transitioning to DTV was formed. These laws essentially mandated that all commercial broadcasters were to transmit digital signals to the public by May 1, 2002, and non-commercial broadcasters by May 1, 2003, and to return their analog spectrum to the government by the end of 2006.

This has barely begun to happen, in spite of the fact that Congress gave broadcasters billions of dollars of digital spectrum free of charge in order to make the transition to digital service seamless.

It appears the reason for the delay is Congress does not require broadcasters to turn over their analog spectrum by December 31, 2006, if less than 85 percent of households in their market have televisions that can receive digital broadcasts. Broadcasters are thus dragging their feet without fear of losing their spectrum, claiming that because so few households have a TV that can receive digital signals, it is not worth transmitting digital signals. The reality is that consumers are reluctant to purchase an expensive DTV because they cannot access many digital signals. In turn, DTV manufacturers are unable to drop their prices because there is so little demand for their product. Thus, a vicious cycle has been created. Congress can change this by amending SHVIA.

Congress should allow satellite TV providers to offer the network broadcasters' DTV programming as a distant digital service to consumers unable to get it from their local broadcaster. This is a modest change to SHVIA, which already allows re-broadcast of distant analog signals if the local broadcaster's analog signal is not available over the air. By allowing satellite companies to rebroadcast distant digital services, digital programming will increase and there will be more of a reason for consumers to purchase DTVs. Consumer demand will drive down costs and increase quality. Eventually, this will lead to a greater number of households having the ability to receive a digital broadcast from their local broadcaster.

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