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Kennard Seeks To Kick-Start DTV Transition

NEW YORK – Speaking at the Museum of Television and Radio here, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman William Kennard blasted broadcasters that have been sluggish in the transition from analog to digital broadcasting, while urging Congress to pass legislation that would force them to comply with the original time table.

Kennard accused certain broadcasters of “squatting on empty spectrum,” adding that such behavior “smothers innovation and endangers America’s lead in new technologies.”

He added that broadcasters, who continue to operate analog channels without using the digital spectrum given them, have “decided to sit on these two highly valuable properties – licensed to them for free by Congress – for as long as they can.”

As a solution, Kennard proposed a plan to force broadcasters into action. He urged Congress to eliminate the soft “85 percent loophole” that does not require a discontinuation of analog broadcasting until 85 percent of households have purchased digital tuners or until 2006, which ever is later. Under Kennard’s proposal, the 2006 deadline for broadcasters to return their analog spectrum would become hard, and broadcasters that fail to comply by that date would be assessed an escalating “spectrum squatters fee” for as long as they delay further.

To ensure broadcasters will have an audience capable of viewing these signals, Kennard also suggested that Congress issue a deadline for TV manufacturers to produce only television sets that can receive both digital and analog signals. As an example, he suggested Jan. 1, 2003 as a reasonable deadline.

While applauding efforts to encourage broadcasters to expedite their DTV broadcasting obligations, the Consumer Electronics Association said the proposed mandate for DTV-compatible TVs will penalize consumers.

“Broadcasters have not delivered on DTV – let’s not make consumers suffer the consequences,” said a CEA spokesman.

“The proposed mandate requiring built-in DTV receivers in all televisions by January of 2003 will undoubtedly result in increased costs to consumers,” he continued. “Under this scenario, one manufacturer estimates that the cost of a 13-inch TV will be $1,000 – a significant increase over today’s average price of $125.”

CEA also said the proposal would reduce consumer choice.

“Consumers have demonstrated that they want options when making the decision to upgrade to DTV. Many consumers are choosing to upgrade their monitor now – to enhance their DVD, DBS or analog experience – and buy a digital tuner later when more programming becomes available,” according to a CEA statement.