Kennard: Speed DTV Shift

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

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

Kennard also said that 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 House and Senate commerce committee leaders on Jan. 19, the day he resigned as chairman after a little more than three years on the job.

The outgoing chairman took credit for several steps the FCC has taken 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 towards 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 broadcaster criticism-were aimed to some extent to free up spectrum that would then be allocated by auction to the wireless industry for deployment of next generation, or "3G," cell-phone services.

In other proposals, Kennard said Congress should consider a mandate that all new TV sets 13 inches or larger include digital-reception capability.

To minimize the impact on consumers, Kennard said the regulation could be applied to the largest and most expensive DTV sets before it is applied to the smaller sets 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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