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Tauzin Stands Firm On 2006 Deadline

The digital television continues to approach mass-market status, but still must clear several large hurdles, including full cable compatibility and acceptance of copy-protection solutions, an assembly of DTV pioneers stated at the CEA’s recent Digital TV Summit here.

The session kicked off with a keynote address from Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, who assured attendees that he remains “bound and determined” to hold to the 2006 deadline for the return of analog television spectrum, and indicated that Congress is prepared to take steps necessary to move it along if it has to.

Tauzin said the process has “many coordinated decisions to be made,” and they are being made on a timely basis, adding that Congress is aware that it can not come between the consumer and his television set when the time comes to end analog broadcasting.

However, he reiterated his desire “that we have, as much as possible, less regulation and, as much as possible, a level playing field where competitors can compete against one another and consumers can make decisions about the winners or losers in this great marketplace.”

He vowed to “continue the roundtable process” of resolving transition snagging points for “as long as we sense there is progress being made.”

Tauzin said it is the expectation of Congress that broadcasters use at least a portion of the broadcast day to the transmission of high-definition television pictures, since HDTV broadcasting was the original reason that stations were given 6 MHz of spectrum bandwidth for digital broadcasting.

“We gave you 6 MHz because that was what it took [broadcasters] to do HDTV and clearly Congress intended you to at least show it to the American public, and you have an obligation to do it. We aren’t saying you have to do it all the time. But you better doggoned well have at least some of it in the mix.”

However, he stressed that enabling the set to empower Americans with greater digital tools is now the primary objective of the transition.

“When we talk about the digital television transition, we are not really talking about pretty pictures,” Tauzin said. “Getting the television to speak the language of the computer age ? is really what Congress was all about when it set the 2006 deadline for television stations to make the full transition to digital.”

He said Americans view the roles of television and the Internet as “necessities” in their lives today, and the goal of new technology is to bring the two together.

“Moving television into the digital age is all about enabling that set to do more and more in an Internet age — to communicate, educate, aid in commerce and literally expand that culture we call America,” Tauzin said.

Regarding the cable industry’s role in the transition, Tauzin said cable operators have begun to aggressively upgrade their systems to digital and are producing some very interesting programming in high definition, but they have had some conflicting views on how DTV signals are relayed over their platforms.

“We are going to bring all these different perspectives together. We are going to get decisions made that will literally end some of these debates. In the end we are going to get this transition done, and consumers will be much better for it,” Tauzin said.

The Congressman said he remains optimistic about “the round table” process in which the kinks in the transition are being resolved, adding that it becomes very clear in the process whose turn it is next to move to the middle and compromise.

Tauzin commended FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s recent voluntary digital television transition plan. “I think prior FCC chairmen have not demonstrated any genuine commitment to ensuring this seamless transition. Chairman Powell has now invested his reputation in making sure it happens.”

He applauded the consumer electronics industry for the “softening” of its position on Powell’s call for the inclusion of 8-VSB tuners in digital television sets.

Tauzin said he recently visited Hollywood and IT industry leaders in California and New York, and reported seeing “movement toward one another.”

“The content community is beginning to embrace the Internet as a means of transmission of its very important product, and they are beginning to have a sense that all of this could be done in a system where content could be protected and yet, the rights of the consumers who enjoy these products can be protected,” he said.