NAB Chief Reminds Obama Of DTV Switch


Washington—In a letter Monday to President-elect Obama, the leader of the National Association of Broadcasters pledged the industry’s cooperation as the government prepares for TV stations’ transition to all-digital broadcasting on Feb. 17, 2009.

The letter from NAB president David Rehr was a reminder to the newly elected president that less than a month after taking office, he will need to oversee a major change in how millions of Americans watch television.

“As you may know, on February 17, 2009, all full-power television stations will transition from analog to digital broadcasting,” Rehr said.

Actually, all commercial stations in Wilmington, N.C., transitioned on Sept. 8, and all full-power stations in Hawaii have agreed to transition on Jan. 15, five days before Obama is to be sworn in.

Meanwhile, starting on Nov. 21, the FCC will allow any station to shut off its analog signal after adequate consumer notice. The FCC permitted early transitions to accommodate TV stations located in cold climates, among other things. And some stations vacated analog spectrum early to allow Qualcomm to expedite the rollout of MediaFLO, a multichannel mobile TV product.

Rehr's one-page letter noted that millions of Americans still do not subscribe to a pay-TV service.

“We are working hard for a smooth and effective digital transition so that the 19 million Americans who depend on free, over-the-year air television can continue to receive a broadcast signal after the transition,” Rehr said.

In the past, the NAB has estimated that up to 19 million TV households rely exclusively on over-the-air TV. By citing “19 million Americans” in his letter to Obama, Rehr actually understated the size of the at-risk population.

John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama transition team, told reporters Tuesday that he was aware that the DTV transition would be an early issue for the new administration.

“The digital television transition will take place, I believe, in early February. I don't have the date stuck in my head," Podesta said. "We're focused on the fact that that will be an early challenge and we need to be ready and prepared for that."

Podesta declined to discuss candidates under consideration for FCC chairman.

“With respect to personnel announcements, I am not going to speculate,” Podesta said. “I have no doubt that the President-elect will believe that it is important to put his own stamp on the FCC.”