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House Members: Mobile DTV Could Be Data Cap Solution

Broadcasters celebrated the ceremonial launch of mobile DTV at a Capitol Hill kick-off event Thursday complete with legislators praising broadcasters newly-minted mobility and pointing out that mobile DTV could be a way for wireless customers to avoid data caps by viewing video over mobile broadcast rather than using their wireless data plans.

There was actually no official launch -- mobile DTV is already up and running on 130 stations in 50 markets, with more coming online in the fall - but was instead a way to let Capitol Hill know, before Congress exits at the end of this week that there was a mobile video service up and running that provided news, sports, entertainment and life-saving info without straining data plans or pocketbooks.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) is excited about Mobile DTV MetroPCS earlier this year became the first wireless carrier to carry mobile DTV service, via a mobile DTV-enable Samsung Galaxy phone that hit the market last month.

A standing-room-only crowd -- there were actually no chairs, but the room was packed nonetheless -- heard from a series of House Communications Subcommittee members who praised mobile DTV as an American success story and a way for broadcasters to secure their future, something broadcasters have been arguing as the FCC encourages them to move over and make way for wireless broadband.

While the room was dominated by an elephant -- it was actually a costumed Babar character courtesy of Qubo, the kids net available from mobile DTV pioneer Ion --  it was Democrats who dominated the lectern to praise the new service.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) called the day a "celebration of American innovation." She said that given studies that show 70% of video watchers want to access it on a screen other than a TV, broadcasters were smart to come up with a service that would not use up wireless subscribers' capped data plans. Usage-based wireless plans and their effect on video consumption has been the subject of scrutiny in Washington, including an ongoing Justice Department investigation. Downloading/streaming video is both a popular and a bandwidth-hungry use of smartphones and tablets.

She said broadcasters were to be saluted for looking ahead and "leap-frogging into the future."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the longest serving member of the Communications Subcommittee said the key words were "free," "mobile" and it "doesn't need more spectrum." In addition, he said, it is a "done deal." Markey joked that with the addition of mobile DTV, broadcasters were ensuring that nobody ever looks up or makes human contact. But he was serious when he said that that broadcasting "has always been at the center of communications in our society" and that mobile DTV was harnessing the power of broadcasting as the world went mobile. He said mobile would be the key for broadcasting to "thrive and succeed in the 21st century."

Adding his voice to the chorus of praise was Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who has long been a strong supporter of broadcasting. He said it had been wise for broadcasters to go mobile and echoed Eshoo by pointing out that consumers could see their favorite shows without "depleting their monthly data allowance."

While broadcasters have long been arguing that broadcasting's one-to-many architecture could help offload bandwidth-hungry video and other data from wireless networks during peak periods, the legislator's invocation of data caps put that benefit in a different and politically powerful light. The point drew applause from a crowd that included members of various mobile DTV interests, including execs from Fisher, LIN and Hearst. 

Republican Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who lost his primary run and so will be exiting at the end of this Congress, praised the "one-to-many" broadcast architecture, but also brought up his support of TV station online political file posting and spectrum reclamation, which were not likely to be applause lines for broadcasters, and weren't.

While mobile DTV is not new, new products for the service being introduced to the market over the next three months include a mobile RCA 7-inch TV (about $230) and an iPad adaptor.

Currently the Samsung Galaxy S LightRay 4G is the only mobile DTV-enabled phone, available through MetroPCS. Since MetroPCS does not bundle the phone with a contract and thus subsidize the price of the phone, consumers have to pay the full price of about $450.

The event's hosts included the Mobile 500 Alliance and the Open Mobile Video Coalition, which together represent more than 1,300 TV stations.