FCC urges caution in transition to DTV

By 2007, cable television providers are expected to be fully transitioned from analog television broadcasting technology to a complete digital service. But before then, Congress wants to make sure customers are not left behind. Members of the House and Senate are concerned that cable customers who cannot afford digital television services would be unfairly frozen out of the medium since analog would likely be phased out.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree has responded with an inquiry into the ramifications of such a move in order to educate his agency and work with Congress to adequately prepare fair legislative protection for customers. Many consumers likely to be affected by this transition are the elderly – a constituency that votes in large numbers – and the poor. However, another group of cable television subscribers that could be affected is small-to-midsize businesses.

Digital and high-definition television is a big component of the digital signage display industry, and emerging businesses are beginning to rely on the technology like their bigger counterparts. Many marketers and digital signage display producers rely on feeds of traditional network and cable feeds for daily news, sports, business and weather, as well as programming that is relevant to their business. For example, a toy store chain may have the cartoon network playing on an LCD display to further entertain the children shopping with their parents. A record store may broadcast MTV or VH1 in the background as their customers decide on their CD and DVD purchases.

The FCC’s investigation could lead to cost protection that would enable emerging businesses to continue to integrate digital television into their digital signage promotions. Right now, Ferree has embarked on a simple fact-finding mission to understand which people would be left without the means to pay for digital cable television and how much they would care if television were taken out of their lives. One proposal being considered is offering a subsidy program to people who cannot afford DTV equipment. The legitimacy of this suggestion will depend on how many avid television customers are affected by the move to digital.

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