FCC Showcases DTV Transition Highlights in Response to GAO

Much of the debate about the government’s efforts to prepare for the shutdown of analog TV in 2009 has focused on consumer education and broadcasters efforts to promote DTV without looking at the immense amount of engineering, from developing an all-digital TV standard capable of supporting HDTV in a single six MHz TV channel, to squeezing in extra DTV channels in crowded markets. As we approach the end of the transition, it’s worthwhile to look back at how we got here.
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Much of the debate about the government’s efforts to prepare for the shutdown of analog TV in 2009 has focused on consumer education and broadcasters efforts to promote DTV without looking at the immense amount of engineering, from developing an all-digital TV standard capable of supporting HDTV in a single 6 MHz TV channel, to squeezing in extra DTV channels in crowded markets. As we approach the end of the transition, it’s worthwhile to look back at how we got here.

The 99-page FCC written response to a fresh GAO report on DTV lists a series of milestones, starting with the 1987 initiation of the proceeding to consider adoption of a final DTV standard. It describes the work of ACATS, the consideration of several options for providing “advanced” television to viewers and the adoption of the ATSC standard in 1996. Timelines are presented for the pre-transition DTV channel assignment/allotment process and broadcasters’ construction of DTV facilities. International coordination, cable carriage of DTV signals and other issues in the pre-transition process are also discussed.

Some have criticized the FCC response for presenting a list of past actions without meeting their concept of a plan for action. Whether or not you agree with that conclusion, the response is an excellent summary of the work involved to get the U.S. DTV transition to where it is today and the work still underway to complete it.

One of the items broadcasters have been looking for to complete the transition are rules and procedures for filing applications for their final DTV facilities, which have to be on the air in 14 months. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, in his testimony yesterday to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, said that a draft order in the Third DTV Periodic Review was just circulated last week. “Hundreds of stations must take significant actions over the next 14 months,” he said. “Things like new antennas and transmitters, new tower construction and new transmission lines-all of which can require financing, zoning approvals, tower crews, or international coordination. But many broadcasters need to know what the technical rules of the road are going to be before they can move forward.”

“If we don’t start making the DTV transition a national priority, we will almost certainly have a nine-car train wreck on our hands,” he said.