Killing Them Softly with His Song

Senior research fellow J.H. Snider joined a panel of industry leaders at the New America Foundation--a nonprofit public policy institute--press conference to promote his new book and sing a familiar tune about what they view as reasons slowing the digital transition.

"Broadcasters are not malicious but oblivious" to how politicians might interpret their behavior, said Snider, author of "Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: How Local TV Broadcasters Exert Political Power," based on his Ph.D. dissertation. The book urges Congress revisit what Snider views as the mistakes made by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and warns that the same "mistakes" will happen again.

Snider said broadcasters have used and abused their power to maintain the "beachfront" broadcast spectrum that they are reluctant to hand over. (He said broadcasters were invited to speak on their own behalf at the panel but invitees declined.)

A secondary issue affecting the digital transition is consumer confusion, despite the education efforts of the consumer groups. Andrew Schwartzman from the Media Access Project said with the advent of new technologies and highly- aware teens, who may be more familiar with broadcast flag and digital rights management issues than their parents, "there will be a greater awareness in the future that will make public policy more transparent" in the future.

Consumer Electronics Association Vice President of Government Affairs Michael Petricone also said the broadcast industry is holding up the digital transition. In the same breath, he said "Monday Night Football" soon would be available only on cable or satellite, and would thus constitute a digital transition in some households without a hard date for the analog shut-off. (MNF will be moved from ABC to ESPN next year. NFL games will still be broadcast over-the-air in primetime on Sunday nights.) Petricone seemed unconcerned about those who might lose OTA broadcasts during the shut-off.