Speed digital rollout, FCC chairman tells TV industry
The FCC’s chairman wants broadcasters to pick up the pace in rolling out digital TV service.
In identical letters sent to two key members of Congress yesterday, Michael K. Powell outlined voluntary steps that should be taken by five segments of the industry to increase the quantity and availability of digital television. Only when 85% of TV homes in a given market are equipped for receiving digital TV are analog TV stations on UHF channels 60–69 required to cease operation.
Some of these channels have been reallocated for public safety, commercial and private two-way radio use. But in many metropolitan areas, potential two-way radio users must wait for incumbent TV stations to vacate channels before radio communications operations may commence.
Powell wants the four largest TV networks, plus HBO and Showtime, to provide high-definition television (HDTV) or other value-added digital TV programming during at least 50% of their prime-time schedules beginning in the fall season.
By Jan. 1, 2003, the chairman wants network affiliates in the top 100 markets to install the necessary equipment to broadcast whatever digital programming the networks provide and to promote the digital content to their analog channel viewers.
Also by Jan. 1, 2003, the chairman wants cable systems with 750MHz capacity or higher to carry at least five digital channels with at least 50% of their prime-time schedule, to offer their customers the necessary decoding equipment and to promote the availability on their systems and in monthly bills.
Powell also is asking direct broadcast satellite operators to carry at least five digital services with the minimum 50% prime-time schedule by Jan. 1, 2003.
The chairman wants TV manufacturers to include digital TV tuners in new receivers on a progressive schedule according to screen size. He wants retailers to market broadcast, cable and satellite digital TV options at the point of sale. And he wants a commitment from manufacturers to meet the demand for cable set-top boxes for HDTV.
The letters’ recipients are Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Rep. W. J. “Billy” Tauzin, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“The plan is purely voluntary,” Powell’s letters read, “but as you can see, [it] contemplates that each relevant industry will play a significant role. I intend to seek commitments along these lines in the near future.”
Mark Crosby, president of Access Spectrum, Bethesda, MD, described Powell’s proposal as a “critical step forward” in addressing the uncertainty currently associated with the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting and the time when analog TV stations cease broadcasting on channels 60–69.
“This spectrum is urgently needed by both mission-critical and public safety entities to address wireless communication requirements. The chairman’s initiative is a most welcome development,” Crosby said.
Access Spectrum licenses include 746MHz-747MHz and 776-777MHz in 18 Major Economic Areas and 762MHz-764MHz and 792MHz-794MHz in 3 MEAs. (See map.) About 12% of the geographic areas covered by its licenses is encumbered by UHF-TV broadcast stations on either co-channel or adjacent channel assignments. Its licenses entitle the company to lease its spectrum to radio communications service providers and users.
To view Powell’s proposal, click here. For his letter to Sen. Hollings, click here. For his letter to Sen. Tauzin, click here. And for a related statement issued by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, click here.