PxPixel
Senate Gets The Party Started - TvTechnology

Senate Gets The Party Started

It was Sen. Daniel Inouye, (D-Hawaii) who made the most astute observation at the Senate Commerce Committee's first DTV hearing of the session. "I'm just wondering, do most of the people in the U.S. know what we're doing in this room?" Inouye said. Indeed, it wasn't always clear to those in the room what the lawmaker
Author:
Publish date:

It was Sen. Daniel Inouye, (D-Hawaii) who made the most astute observation at the Senate Commerce Committee's first DTV hearing of the session.

"I'm just wondering, do most of the people in the U.S. know what we're doing in this room?" Inouye said.

Indeed, it wasn't always clear to those in the room what the lawmakers were doing, except for perhaps revealing agendas that were not exactly in sync. While just about everyone on the dais and the witness panel, including the broadcast lobby chief, agreed that Jan. 1, 2009 was a doable hard date for ending analog TV, the devil was revealed to be in the details. Nothing resembling consensus emerged on a subsidy program for set-top converter boxes and for complete cable carriage of all broadcast signals.

Eddie Fritts, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters testified that full and unmolested cable carriage of everything a broadcaster puts out is necessary for the survival of the over-the-air system, if not the human race itself.

Kyle McSlarrow, chief of the cable lobby, said the NAB's full court press for expanded must-carry was a ploy to "to goad the cable industry into joining them in their passive-aggressive opposition to a hard date."

Gary Shapiro later raved about McSlarrow's employment of a personality disorder in the hard-date debate. He also promised Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), chairman of the committee, that there are television sets manufactured entirely in the United States.
More than once, Stevens has publicly opined that foreign set makers are flooding the U.S. market with analog TVs - one of which he purchased because he was led to believe it was digital. Shapiro said he'd get back to the chairman with information on where TVs come from.

Shapiro also told the committee that digital sets are now outselling analog sets, although the claim defies the CEA's own numbers. According to those, analog sets continue to outsell digital sets (those with a display that can at least do 480p, but not necessarily capable of receiving or displaying digital TV signals) by about 4-to-1. Add plasma and direct-view LCD products to the mix, and the ratio is about 3-to-1.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), George Allen (R-Va.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) revealed sympathies toward broadcasters. Snowe even had the chutzpah to recall that Congress started the entire mess in the first place. Vitter talked about how his constituents rely on broadcast TV to get out of the way of hurricanes. Allen wondered why they would hit the switch right before a Rose Parade.

Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and John Sununu, (R-N.H.) were less convinced that an analog shutoff would lead to anything more than a marketplace shift. Sununu scolded witnesses for using "consumers as scapegoats" to delay the transition, but Gene Kimmelman was having none of it.

Kimmelman, senior director of public policy for the Consumers Union, questioned the wisdom of making consumers buy $50 converter boxes, which are still in the mythical stage of development.

"Why should anyone have to pay to keep their television working?" Kimmelman said.. "Households with two sets would be subject to a $100 consumer tax."

DeMint mused that at 50 smackeroos, a converter box would be a pretty good deal.

"I would think that if you could pay $50 one time for a converter for free TV with multiple channels, versus paying for cable every month, it would be a boon for consumers," he said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was apparently made fun of by broadcast as a small child, said "the most disgraceful chapter in the history of this committee is the way the National Association of Broadcasters has blocked" a hard date. McCain has latched onto the cause of freeing spectrum for first-responders, who need at least three years and a bunch of money to create a workable communications system in it, according to testimony from Arlin McEwen, chairman of the International Association of Chiefs Police Communications Committee.