News

Copps Pushes DTV Test Market

1/11/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

Federal Communications Commission Democrat Michael Copps hasn’t given up on his proposal to complete the digital-TV transition in at least one test market before the national cutoff of analog broadcasting in February 2009.

“I think it’s the only rational and viable way to go about something like this,” Copps said last Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show. “I can’t just see one time pulling the lever and saying a Hail Mary and hoping for the best.”

Copps, who floated a DTV transition dry run in late December, hasn’t gained the support of Republican FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

“I am not opposed to it, but I’m not sure that logistically we would be able to end up accomplishing it,” Martin said here.

Martin indicated that the preparations to conduct a DTV transition trial would be too extensive with just 13 months left before the Feb. 17, 2009, national cutoff of the analog TV signals on which the consuming public has relied for decades.

“There’s only a year left before the actual transition. There haven’t been any communities that have yet come forward and said, 'Hey, we want to be the experimental community to have this occur,’ ” Martin said.

According to the National Association of Broadcasters, U.S. consumers own 69 million analog TV sets that can’t receive digital TV signals with rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna. To keep those sets viable after the transition, consumers must connect them to cable or satellite TV, or attach a digital-to-analog converter box.

The Consumer Electronics Association expects that about 80 million DTV sets will be sold by February 2009.

Like many Democrats on Capitol Hill, Copps is concerned that a seamless DTV transition on a single day is unlikely in a country with 300 million people and a complex demographic profile. Thus, Copps’s interest in a trial that could expose weaknesses on a small scale.

“It’s late in the game. We should have done this a long time ago,” Copps said.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel when the Feb. 17, 2009 transition date became law, said Copps might have a good idea.

“Just on the face of it, the concept doesn’t seem to be silly,” Barton said. “Pilot programs in general tend to be good ideas.”

November