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Shapiro To Kennard: Focus On Content

WASHINGTON, D.C. -Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro formally asked Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard to reconsider his proposal to require manufacturers to put digital tuners in all television sets by 2003 and focus instead on content availability.

In an open letter to Kennard, Shapiro said that CEA “enthusiastically supports” the chairman’s overall goal of speeding the transition to DTV, but he warned the proposal to require DTV reception capability in every TV receiver over 13 inches by 2003 “would have a severe and harmful effect on American consumers.”

In a speech in New York City last month, Kennard proposed a three-point call-to-action plan that asked Congress to enact legislation to:

  • Eliminate the “loophole,” that allows broadcasters to wait until 85 percent of homes have DTV equipment before switching off analog signals by making 2006 a hard deadline.
  • Require digital tuners to be built into all new TVs over 13-inches by 2003.
  • Impose an escalating “spectrum squatters fee” on broadcasters that do not meet the 2006 deadline.

Shapiro said that Kennard’s DTV tuner requirement would add “two to three hundred dollars to the retail price of every such receiver sold. We agree that broadcasters have yet to provide viewers with plentiful HDTV content. However, it would be unfair to punish American consumers for this shortcoming.”

Shapiro urged Kennard to continue to pressure broadcasters to deliver compelling DTV programming instead of “merely digitized versions of the station’s regular, analog programming.”

“We would suggest that the commission insist all broadcast networks commit to a growing number of HDTV and DTV programming hours. At a minimum, they could start by following the example of CBS, which has provided, for two years, an essentially complete prime-time schedule in HDTV, plus a variety of special events and sports programming,” Shapiro said.

He also asked the FCC to “bring certainty to the marketplace by finally and conclusively settling the DTV broadcast standards issue. It is unreasonable to ask manufacturers to build DTV reception capability into every receiver when some broadcasters are still publicly questioning the FCC’s standard.”

He urged the commission to enact rules to reassure American cable subscribers that “if they purchase a DTV receiver, they will be able to receive their locally broadcast DTV and HDTV programming through their cable systems.This may also require that the FCC continue its role in encouraging the resolution of key issues surrounding copy protection, a subject that is already under consideration in an ongoing proceeding before the commission.”

Shapiro added that the competitive pressures of the marketplace will ensure manufacturers will continue to offer an array of DTV products, including those that include DTV reception capability: “We expect that an increase in the sale of integrated sets and set-top box decoders would correspond to any increase in compelling HDTV and digitally originated over-the-air programming that encourages consumers to buy into the HDTV and digital experience.”