Coalition Pushes For DTV Transition

A coalition of technology companies and trade associations are urging Congress to reject any proposal that might delay the digital television (DTV) transition date of Feb. 17, 2009.

After that date, television sets must have digital tuners to receive an over-the-air signal.

The transition to DTV is expected to raise billions when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctions off the analog spectrum currently occupied by broadcasters. Wireless broadband providers are expected to be the primary bidders for the spectrum.

A portion of the spectrum will also be reserved for first responders to improve interoperability. The new law also dedicates $1 billion in grants for first-responder interoperable equipment and training.

Another $156 million is set aside for a national alert system and another $43.5 million for a fully enhanced national 911 emergency alert system.

“For two decades, Congress has envisioned the economic and public welfare benefits that will flow from the DTV transition,” the High Tech DTV Coalition wrote in a letter today to Congress.

“The result of this vision can truly be a win-win scenario for all involved — innovative developers of new broadband services, public safety responders, rural users, broadcasters and, most importantly, the American public.”

Members of the coalition include Cisco , Dell , Intel , Microsoft , Qualcomm , Texas Instruments , Verizon Wireless , Information Technology Industry Council, National Association of Manufacturers, Semiconductor Industry Association, CTIA, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Business Software Alliance and the Rural Telecom Group.

As part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Congress originally voted to move broadcasters out of their analog spectrum at the end of 2006. However, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) successfully lobbied Congress in 1997 to delay the transition.

Under the NAB plan, if more than 15 percent of the homes in a market could not receive a digital signal, broadcasters could retain the analog spectrum. Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in 2004 the rule would put off the DTV transition by at least a decade.

Annoyed by the broadcasters’ continued delay in moving out of the analog spectrum, Congress approved legislation setting the current hard DTV transition date for 2009.

“The American public is eagerly awaiting the arrival of digital television… consumers and businesses are anxious to benefit from the innovative wireless services that will be offered in the auctioned spectrum, and first responders want interoperability as soon as possible,” George Scalise, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association, said in a statement.

Currently, stations occupy channels 2-69 (698-806 megahertz). Because digital spectrum is more efficient, the DTV transition will allow television stations to fit into channels 2-51 (58-698 MHz). The remaining 108 MHz spectrum block is widely known as the “700 MHz band.”

Congress set aside 24 MHz of the 700 MHz band exclusively for public safety. Excluding that spectrum previously auctioned or allocated for guard bands, the 60 MHz of commercial spectrum is scheduled for FCC auction no later than January of next year.

“Congress took a tremendous stride towards a new communications future when it passed DTV legislation into law last year,” Jeff Connaughton, executive director of the High Tech DTV Coalition, said in a statement.

“The American public wants Congress to work in a bi-partisan manner to ensure that the most innovative communications technologies are made available as early and widely as possible.”

To help ease the conversion to digital television broadcasting for the approximately 15 percent of American households that currently receive exclusively over-the-air broadcasts, the legislation authorizes $1.5 billion in digital converter-box subsidies.

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