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Plea: Take Back DTV Spectrum

Washington— A prominent consumer group last week called on the government to seize TV broadcasters' digital spectrum as a wasting resource that should be transferred to the more dynamic wireless high-speed data industry.

"It is time for the [Federal Communications Commission] to take back the spectrum and put it to better uses, like WiFi [wireless fidelity or 802.11b] and other unlicensed wireless applications, which are growing like wildfire," Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America, said in a statement.

Cooper's comments came as the FCC moves forward with a review of TV stations' transition to all-digital broadcasting. That process will conclude with the return of analog spectrum, which is not expected to occur for many years.

The National Association of Broadcasters reports that 825 TV stations (some of them noncommercial) have started digital broadcasting, but CFA said only about 350 are operating at full power.

"Low-power stations are not fully replicating their analog service contours in digital, which means that some percentage of homes within their analog service area cannot receive their digital signal," Cooper said.

The FCC's unwillingness to pressure broadcasters to make full use of the digital spectrum has contributed to slow consumer adoption of digital TV sets, said Cooper.

The FCC allowed stations to conserve power in the early stages of the transition to save money.

"With little programming actually available to consumers, sales of digital TV sets have been lagging, which will only further delay the transition if the FCC does not act quickly," Cooper said.

Last year, at the NAB's urging, the FCC ordered the inclusion of off-air DTV tuners in new TV sets. The five-year phase-in begins in July 2004, when 50 percent of all sets 36 inches and larger must have off-air digital tuners.