Tech firms push for switch to digital TV
WASHINGTON – A group of U.S. high-tech heavyweights on Wednesday urged Congress to set a firm date for the transition to digital signals for television broadcasts, saying it’s critical for innovation and jobs.
The High Tech DTV Coalition, launched Wednesday, includes Dell Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., International Business Machines Corp., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Qualcomm Inc.
The group’s executive director, Janice Obuchowski, who has been mentioned as a possible future Federal Communications commissioner, said “we have had 88 megahertz of spectrum lying fallow,” referring to a swath of the 700 megahertz band currently occupied by broadcasters.
Once television signals are switched to digital from analog, that spectrum would be freed up. Auctioning parts of the spectrum to the private sector for use in advanced telecommunications services could bring in $20 billion to $30 billion to the government, Obuchowski estimated.
“Not only will (the spectrum) lead to viable competition to existing broadband providers, it will also reach far into rural areas, at relatively low cost, giving consumers in underserved areas broadband options that they have never had before,” Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett said.
Public safety officials have also said that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks highlighted the need for additional spectrum to allow emergency first responders to communicate.
The coalition backs efforts by House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, to set a firm transition date of Dec. 31, 2006. Under current law, the digital transition will occur on that date but with the critical caveat that 85 percent of homes be ready to receive digital signals either by owning a digital television or converter box. Barton wants to drop that caveat.
Barton said recently that he hopes to have legislation ready soon. His committee is also considering broad changes to the nation’s telecommunications laws.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Tuesday that no region currently meets the 85 percent threshold, and “it doesn’t look like we’re going to meet 2006 on the path we’re heading.”
Transition proponents say that without the urgency that comes with a firm date, the transition could drag on for many years.
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