Copps ‘Worried’ About DTV Transition

(click thumbnail)Left to Right: NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr, and FCC Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Michael J. Copps.LAS VEGAS

In his first Q&A session with FCC commissioners at the NAB convention, NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr dove in with questions about several issues of importance pending before the agency.

At the NAB2007 FCC Breakfast sponsored by A.G. Edwards, some of the topics that made Rehr’s hit list included the DTV transition, white spaces, AM radio and the potential satellite radio merger.

The urgency of letting the public know about the DTV transition was at the forefront of the discussion. Rehr referred to the Feb. 17, 2009 deadline, saying it’s less than two years away.

“We have a coupon program being kicked off by NTIA. We have a car called a ‘Digit Washer,’” he said.

There’s also a cartoon in development to educate consumers about the transition. Rehr asked FCC Commissioner Copps what the FCC is doing in terms of the transition and if he had any advice to ensure its smoothness.


Copps said he’s really worried about the transition process.

“We’ve really got to close business that day or [Rep. John] Dingell’s prediction of a ‘fine mess’ will come true.”

Copps likened the preparation process to Y2K, which involved a lot of meetings and outreach.

“This DTV transition is a stealth process compared to that. I think we’ve got to make sure people know what the sets and monitors are capable of,” he said.

Rehr said there’s a digital TV symposium at the show today, with broadcasters from countries that have already converted their TV industry to digital on hand to offer advice. Presenters from Sweden, Britain, Austria and Singapore are included.

Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said she met with attendees from Sweden and Argentina earlier this week about the topic. “What Sweden has done has worked well,” she said. Tate joked that perhaps the United States “could subcontract with Britain to help us out here.”

Rehr moved on to the “move afoot to have unlicensed devices operate on the TV band.” NAB believes the FCC “should have command of it,” he said, and asked the commissioners what the next steps would be for that issue.

Copps said the agency has to protect against unreasonable interference. Testing is underway and the commission needs to write the rules on this issue. “I think white spaces should be used to advance the common good,” Copps said.

Tate said, “in this discussion of new uses of spectrum we have to remember those who are already there.”

Moving onto radio, Rehr joked, “Most nights I don’t sleep because of a man whose first name begins with ‘M,’” referring to Sirius Satellite Radio President and CEO Mel Karmazin. Now that Sirius and XM Satellite Radio have filed their merger plan with the FCC, Rehr asked the commissioners what the process to handle the merger would be going forward.

Both commissioners noted that the Department of Justice has asked the satellite radio companies for more information, which may slow down the review process a bit, according to Copps.

Tate said her mind is open and she’s reading everything she can about the issue. “It’s important. It’s a big decision,” she said.


Copps said he’s no big fan of consolidation. Chairman Kevin Martin has indicated “it would be a big climb for him and it would be a steep climb for me, too,” Copps said.

One of the questions the agency needs to review is whether satellite radio and terrestrial radio compete in the same market along with iPods and other devices, he said.

Referring to NAB’s petition to allow AM stations, in some cases, to use FM translators to fill in coverage gaps, Rehr asked what the association could do to help the issue move forward. Copps said he “understands there are operational difficulties involved here,” yet “others are clamoring for this,” including LPFMs.

The issue should be teed up soon, he said, adding that the agency should have a general proceeding so the industry knows what to expect.

Copps brought up Don Imus, recently fired from WFAN in New York for on-air racist remarks, toward the end of the session when he, Tate and Rehr discussed how to get more women and minorities into station management.

Copps said, “Diversity is not a problem to be overcome. It’s an opportunity.” The diversity of the U.S. population is not reflected in station ownership, he said. About one-third of the U.S. population is minority, however only about 2 percent of broadcast stations are owned by people of color, and the number of women managers is in the low double-digits, he said.

“And you get something like Don Imus. This is really serious; it’s not business as usual. It’s got to be different.” The country must move forward, he concluded.