FCC chairman talks DTV at CES

FCC chairman Kevin Martin discussed DTV transition issues at CES with Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. High on his list of topics was the Feb. 17, 2009, deadline to shut off analog broadcasts in the United States.

Feb. 17, 2009, is going to be hard deadline, Martin said, with no changes or exceptions to be considered at this point, no matter what industry issues might arise. He referred listeners to the information on www.dtv.gov.

With more half of American homes already owning digital TV sets, Martin said he is pleased with what has been done to inform consumers, although he added that more can be done.

“The importance of transitioning is important for several reasons,” Martin said. One is better pictures, more interactivity, and repacking the spectrum to make room for commercial wireless services and public safety. “We get to reclaim that spectrum,” he said.

Martin said he is hopeful that the government will net a minimum of $15 billion from the 700MHz spectrum auctions, which begin later this month. It’s “possible,” the chairman said, “that we’ll see 700MHz devices within a year — which is why the ‘hard’ analog cutoff date of Feb. 17, 2009, is important.”

Martin said he has no interest in “any particular company winning,” he just wants someone to make the minimum bid that would enforce open access. Since poor broadband penetration in rural areas is the main reason the United States is so far behind Asia, the 700MHz spectrum will serve as a good bridge, and might even become the new broadband platform.