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CEA says full-power DTV broadcasts are key to DTV transition

Taking its usual hard line against over-the-air broadcasters, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has urged the FCC to ensure that broadcast stations begin transmitting digital signals as soon as possible, and do so at full power.

In comments filed last week with the FCC, the CEA said manufacturer-to-dealer sales of DTV products increased 86 percent from the same time a year ago. “This success led manufacturers to drop the average price of HDTV monitors 11 percent from March 2002 to March 2003, and we project higher sales figures and additional price drops this year,” the CEA reported.

However, the CEA said, a number of factors continue to hinder the transition. “Most notable is the fact that many commercial stations still have not commenced digital broadcasts notwithstanding the FCC’s May 1, 2002, deadline. Moreover, the majority of stations that are on the air are broadcasting at less than full power, depriving many in their analog audience access to their digital signal.”

The CEA said “only 854 of the 1,688 DTV channels the Commission allotted for DTV broadcasting - or 51 percent - were on the air in early March 2003. Of these 854, only 394 - or 23 percent - were reported to be operating at full power to replicate the service area of their analog station. The large number of stations not broadcasting on their DTV channels at full power unnecessarily delay the DTV transition and return of the analog spectrum.”

The CEA said a lack of promotion for over-the-air digital broadcast programming is a drag on the DTV transition, noting that broadcasters do little to promote DTV programming in newspapers or on their analog channels.

“Broadcasters, both as a group and individually, with only minor exceptions, are not doing enough to promote digital programming nor the use of antennas to receive over-the-air- broadcast signals,” the CEA told FCC members. “In contrast, the broadcasters’ focus appears to be more on obtaining federal mandates to require other transmission services (satellite and cable) to carry their signals.

Indeed, the broadcaster advocacy of a mandatory digital tuner requirement is puzzling given their lack of advocacy in the marketplace for over-the-air reception using indoor or outdoor antennas.

“At the very least, the FCC should insist that broadcasters advocate for over-the-air broadcasting rather than increasingly relying on federal mandates or others to ensure their commercial success,” the CEA group said.

In its filing, the CEA also asked the FCC to approve the cable compatibility plug-and-play standards agreed to by the consumer electronics and cable industries to make sure that equipment is readily available for viewing broadcasts over cable and could be used throughout the country.

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