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Quick DTV Fix Just a "Cheap" Joke

Earlier this month, the Broadcasting & Cable TV Fax
published an item headlined "DTV Fix Could Be Cheap." I take exception to the statement that an early switchover to digital would be cheap. It may even be impossible.

Some have suggested that the government provide free digital tuners to the 6.15 million low-income households who do not subscribe to cable or satellite. This would provide only one working television set in each home after the analog channels are turned off. What about the other sets?

Survey data indicates that 13% of American households do not subscribe to some form of subscription TV. But that is not an accurate assessment of how American homes rely on over-the-air viewing.

In as many as 30 million cable or satellite homes, viewers regularly watch one or more TV sets that only receives an over-the-air signal. Should the government order 30 million more converters, at a cost estimated by Motorola to exceed $2 billion? I think not.

I wonder about the quoted $67 for the cost of a converter. Are those converters capable of performing the multitude of new functions that will be enabled through digital broadcasting?

I was a member of the FCC's Committee on Advanced TV Systems. Having been a pioneer in the delivery of digital quality signals through DBS, I have some knowledge about the promise of a digital system.

Satellite still doesn't have the capacity to deliver stations' HDTV signals. Cable has been unwilling to universally carry all stations' digital signals. So, while it is true that service from EchoStar, DirecTV or digital cable provides the delivery of a digital picture, the mere transmission of an incomplete signal does not meet the mandate a genuine all-digital broadcast service will provide.

More than five years ago, I and others from our company suggested to officials in Washington that the only way to ensure a rapid transition to digital would be to require that all new television sets have a digital tuner. In October 2002, the FCC adopted a policy, which, over time, accomplishes this. But the FCC was late in acting.

I believe that shortly after all new television sets contain digital tuners, perhaps in five years, it will be possible to discontinue analog service. To be fair, there must be a reasonable time between ending the sale of all analog-only sets and the discontinuation of analog service. It is not sensible for the government to allow consumers to buy a product which the government itself plans to force into obsolescence almost immediately.

Also, I do not believe that anybody—broadcasters or the government—has the ability to force Americans to scrap 30 million television sets. Viewers are voters, and voters, when threatened, exercise their power.