Kennard to Congress: Speed DTV Shift

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In a valedictory letter to Congress, Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard called for consideration of new mandates on commercial TV stations to speed their move to all-digital transmission.

In a four-page letter, Kennard said TV stations located in channels 52 through 69 should be forced to surrender their analog licenses no later than Dec. 31, 2006, which would repeal current law that permits analog transmission to continue until 85 percent of households in a market can receive digital signals.

In addition, he said, TV stations using channels 2 through 51 for analog transmission after Dec. 31, 2006, should be required to pay a spectrum fee that escalates annually until analog service is terminated.

Kennard sent the letter to Commerce Committee leaders in the House and Senate Jan. 19, the day he resigned as chairman after a little more than three years on the job.

Kennard took credit for several steps taken by the FCC in recent years to hasten the digital transition, but the letter apparently represented his plea that the agency has insufficient tools to complete the task.

'Although substantial progress is being made toward moving the transition forward, there are some important, outstanding issues that could slow its progress,' said Kennard, who also sent Congress legislative language that would effect the changes he supports.

All of Kennard's proposals -- some of which he enunciated in a speech late last year that drew strong criticism from the broadcast industry -- were aimed to some extent toward freeing up spectrum for allocation by auction to the wireless industry for deployment of next-generation, or '3G,' cellular-phone services.

In other proposals, Kennard said Congress should considering ordering that all new TV sets 13 inches or larger include digital-reception capability. To minimize the impact on consumers, he added, the mandate could begin by applying to the largest and most expensive digital-TV sets before applying to smaller sets that most consumers can afford.

In his last proposal, Kennard said Congress should step in to resolve digital copyright issues if industry participants fail to reach voluntary agreements in a timely manner.

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