Broadcasters take heat for delaying DTV transition

At the recent HDTV Summit in Washington, D.C., participants wanted to know whom to blame for the sluggish DTV transition.

Some cited consumer confusion. Outside of the broadcasters themselves, there was widespread agreement that Congress should set a definitive date for ending the DTV transition. On this date, analog transmissions would be shutdown forever.

Current FCC regulations, backed by the Telecom Act of 1996, mandate an analog turn-off only when 85 percent of people in a given market are able to receive DTV transmissions. That standard, originally backed by the NAB, could delay the transition for years to come.

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Technology, said if there were a date certain more people would take the step to DTV.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was awarded the 2004 DTV Government Leadership Award by the Academy of Digital Television Pioneers at the summit, also supports a Dec. 31, 2006 deadline.

McCain said Congress should take care of Americans with fixed incomes as the transition is undertaken. He pledged to continue to work on behalf of the over-the-air viewers to ensure that no viewers are left behind.

Broadcasters disputed the notion that they are holding up the transition.

David Donovan, MSTV’s president, said consumers are behind the delay. He said the FCC should return to its original goal - to ease the consumer in the shift from analog to digital - instead of spectrum reclamation being its top priority.

Former FCC Chairman Dick Wiley, a communications attorney and supporter of broadcaster interests, cautioned against the quick selection of a cut-off date. Wiley suggested to reporters that a better cutoff date might be in 2009 or 2010.

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