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NAB to Deadline Heads: How Nice of You to Chime In

A slew of tech companies have seen fit to weigh in on the DTV deadline. Joining forces as the "High Tech DTV Coalition," several companies and communications lobbies papered Capitol Hill this week with letters calling for a hard date so they get on with slicing up the 700 MHz spectrum.

"Near-term certainty about when the DTV transition will be complete is critical to unleashing the potential of this valuable spectrum," said Janice Obuchowski, the coalition's executive director, a former director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration whose name reportedly made it onto the short list for the FCC chairmanship. No specific date was advocated, although the group's support for Barton's Dec. 31, 2006 push was reported.

Members include Dell, Cisco systems, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Alcatel, Aloha Partners, AT&T, Texas Instruments, T-Mobile and at least half a dozen lobbies.

Meanwhile, the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP) issued its own paper storm urging lawmakers to wrap up the DTV transition. Intel, Dell, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Unysis, Applied Materials and IBM are some of the CSPP members.

The tone of the campaign suggests that freeing up the borrowed transition spectrum will create a wave of new jobs, unleash fabulous new technologies and bring broadband access to hoards of isolated rural people. Specifics were a tad scanty, however.

Meanwhile, broadcasters continue the channel-selection process that will ultimately free the transition spectrum, and the chief of the broadcast lobby would like to see them cut some slack, thank you very much.

"To date, broadcasters have invested billions of dollars and risked the most to complete the DTV transition," wrote NAB chief Eddie Fritts in his own missive to lawmakers. "According to the FCC, there are now 1,497 local stations on-air in digital operating in all 211 television market. As these hundreds of local broadcasters are transmitting in both analog and digital signals, they are paying dual operating costs without any additional revenue source. Clearly, we have every incentive to see the transition ended and the analog spectrum freed for other uses.

"However, as a matter of public policy, the corporate financial interests of a handful of technology companies should not trump the needs of American television viewers. Make no mistake--a premature end to analog television could leave millions of Americans without access to free local TV station signals. The harm to these consumers--a disproportionate number of whom come from poor and minority households--must be considered against the purely parochial interests of high-tech companies hoping to profit from new uses of this spectrum."

Fritts also responded to the often-repeated charge that broadcasters are standing in the way of public safety concerns.

"The fact of the matter is that in the 10 cities most likely to be struck by a terrorist attack, the communications interoperability issue has been resolved," he wrote. "While expansion of public safety communications interoperability remains an important policy goal, CSPP appears to be overstating the problem for its own ulterior motives."

Local TV stations are first responders, too, he said.