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Hearst-Argyle CEO tells Congress that broadcasters are committed to smooth DTV transition

Testifying before a House subcommittee Oct. 31, David Barnett, president and CEO of Hearst-Argyle Television and member of the NAB board of directors, told lawmakers that broadcasters are committed to leaving no viewer uninformed of the February 2009 DTV transition but cautioned them to defer authorizing new uses of the DTV spectrum until Congress is “assured that digital television reception will not be impaired.”

Barnett laid out for the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet the size of the investment that the broadcast industry already has made in the DTV transition and the lengths to which it will go to leave no viewer behind after Feb. 17, 2009.

Pointing to his own company as an example, Barnett said Hearst-Argyle Television has spent $80 million outfitting its TV stations with digital transmission equipment —or about $2.5 million per station. That figure does not include its investment in new technology to launch local HDTV newscasts at four of its stations. Additionally, Hearst-Argyle and the rest of the industry continue to operate both digital and analog transmission facilities in anticipation of the analog switchoff, resulting in increased labor and energy costs, he said.

Making the point that it is in broadcasters’ own self interest to make the digital transition successful, Barnett informed the lawmakers of the NAB’s recently announced $697 million commitment to educate the public about the transition. The multifaceted educational campaign will create 98 billion impressions upon viewers between now and the February 2009 analog switchoff, informing consumers about the transition, he said.

However, opening up the DTV spectrum to personal, portable unlicensed devices, which is the aim of some Silicon Valley companies, will “turn the DTV transition on its head,” he said.

Barnett told the subcommittee that recent FCC testing suggests that such devices could create “unacceptable interference” and that the industry is “deeply concerned that allowing these devices in the television band will jeopardize the success of the transition and interfere with digital television reception.”

While acknowledging that policies intended to make full use of the digital spectrum and promote the deployment of broadband Internet services in rural areas are “appropriate,” Barnett said doing so before the DTV transition is complete and viewers have DTV receivers in place would be “premature.”