House members warn TV broadcasters to avoid DTV foot dragging

Some House members expressed their concern over the pace at which TV broadcasters are making the transition to digital service at a House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing on the needs of emergency responders for spectrum last week.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., a member of the Democratic Caucus’ Task Force on Homeland Security, said TV broadcasters should not drag their feet in making the transition to digital service. Such inaction will prompt Congress to respond, she said.

Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said he was “disgusted” with broadcasters who haven’t considered safety ahead of profits. Weldon, a former volunteer firefighter, pointed to communications as the chief problem facing emergency responders.

At the hearing, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La., recognized the concerns of Weldon and Harman. However, he reminded the lawmakers that the overriding factor determining the timing of broadcasters’ transition to digital TV is the acceptance of the new technology by consumers. “We’re concerned about a fixed date and consumers not having an analog signal to receive with their analog television sets,” said Tauzin.

Tauzin urged the FCC to address the needs of emergency responders during this transition by looking to new technologies as a stopgap.

Responding to the comments of Harman and Weldon, NAB senior vice president of communications Dennis Wharton said, “From Amber alerts to emergency weather information to hurricane and tornado coverage, there is no technology on the planet better than local broadcast stations in providing life saving information to consumers.

“The only foot-draggers in the digital TV transition are cable companies using their gatekeeper clout to block viewer access to local DTV channels and TV set manufacturers who are fighting a DTV tuner mandate from the FCC."

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