Tech to TV Execs: Get Off the Beachfront!

Tech executives lined up today to support legislation forcing TV
broadcasters out of the 700 MHz band by the end of 2006. The executives
want the beachfront spectrum for wireless broadband services.

In a letter to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Energy and
Commerce committee, the leaders of Intel, HP, Dell, IBM and
Motorola endorsed Barton’s idea to slap a date certain on the digital TV (DTV) transition.

Under current law, broadcasters must vacate their analog spectrum
by Dec. 31, 2006, or when 85 percent of the homes in their market are
capable of receiving DTV signals from all broadcasters in that market.

The 85 percent rule has caused many in Congress to question whether the DTV
transition can be met even this decade and the vacated spectrum auctioned
off for wireless broadband and other services. Barton’s legislation would
eliminate the 85 percent rule.

“Efficient allocation of spectrum is a critical component of any successful
broadband strategy,” the letter states. “America’s current allocation,
however, underutilizes prime spectrum — squandering valuable opportunities
to advance broadband deployment.”

The CEOs are members of the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP), a CEO
policy advocacy group focused on U.S. technology competitiveness. Intel’s
Craig R. Barrett serves as the current chairman of the CSPP.

“We fully agree that the current law’s lack of a date certain for the DTV
transition poorly serves our national interests,” the CEOs said, “We urge
you to establish in law a date firm and binding date certain for completing
the DTV transition as soon as possible.

A hard deadline, however, is a politically sensitive issue for Congress. If
the 2006 deadline is met, the 21 million Americans (approximately 20
percent) who receive only over-the-air-broadcasts will have their sets go
dark on Jan. 1, 2007, unless they purchase sets with DTV tuners or subscribe
to cable or satellite television services.

At a February hearing of Barton’s committee, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.)
contended those 21 million Americans are “some of the most economically
challenged residents in our nation,” adding, “I don’t think any of us would
expect these individuals to bear the burden of the transition that would
turn their television sets into scrap metal.”

Barton hopes to offset that issue with a converter box subsidy program that
could be covered by the proceeds of auctioning off broadcasters’ analog
spectrum. A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates
the cost of a possible converter box subsidy program from as little as $460
million to as much as $10.6 billion.

Last year, the Bush administration said it opposed subsidizing converter
boxes for Americans who can’t afford the DTV sets. Instead, Bush supports an
annual analog spectrum tax on broadcasters who fail to vacate their current

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