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FCC To Speed DTV Transition, Powell Pledges

LAS VEGAS — CEA’s president/CEO Gary Shapiro can expect to getgovernment support for his wish for more speed by TV broadcasters and cable companies in their transition from analog to digital (See story at right), according to the FCC’s chairman Michael Powell.

Powell, appearing here at CES yesterday before a packed house at what has become an annual Q&A session with Shapiro, acknowledged once again that the originally planned 2006 date for all TV broadcasting to complete the switch from analog to digital was too optimistic. “It seemed like a long time away when we set it,” Powell explained.

A key problem now, he explained, is one of definitions. As an example, Powell said that while stations are required to make the switch, and give up their analog channels, when 85 percent of viewers have access to a digital TV, but there’s a question of exactly “How that’s going to be measured, by one TV in every house? [Or] by one TV in every room in every house?”

Powell added, “When a customer goes into a store and has a choice between a $300 analog TV and a $3,000 digital and asked the salesman, ‘When do I have to have this?’ I’m always disheartened when the guy says ‘I have no idea really, but it’s probably a long way off.’ ”

By the end of this year, “At some point,” and “it’s going to have to be this year,” that has to be settled, and open the way to setting a final transition deadline.

But as far as he is concerned, Powell stated, digital TV is already “a hit.” He said he often visits the TV departments of Best Buy and Circuit City and weekends to eavesdrop. He said he’s seen consumers “take out second mortgages” to buy an advanced HDTV.

As for the cable firms dragging their heels in the digital area, Powell said the FCC has established rules covering signal security, and while the agency given the companies one delay, they will have to come up with strong consumer interest arguments to get another.”

So far, Powell said, the FCC has been trying to encourage rather than directly regulate broadband Internet applications. He said there’s no need for a single standard speed, “I don’t need 100MB per second for e-mail.” As for content, Powell said “Let consumer decide which bits” they will use, “with one exception, the evil bit.” Those, he said, include the viruses, the spam, the illegal adware, and the things that are going to damage the Internet experience, that are hostile to our systems. I think the government has an enormous responsibility to be a partner in getting that stuff out of the system, Powell said.