NBC U: Spectrum Not the Only Issue


Reclamation of spectrum should not be the federal government’s sole concern in the ongoing effort to convert over-the-air broadcasting to all-digital transmission, according to NBC Universal.

NBC U officials are concerned that a Federal Communications Commission staff plan -- which would reclaim 108 megahertz of spectrum no later than Dec. 31, 2008 -- failed to take into account the disruption to consumers who have not purchased digital-reception equipment.

The digital transition is “not just about freeing spectrum for possible auction, but that congressional intent and the public interest favor a smooth and true transition to digital television for all consumers,” NBC U told the commission last month.

Although the FCC meeting occurred Dec. 16, the NBC U letter did not surface until this week because the company elected to file a record by hand, which delays posting on the FCC’s Web site (www.fcc.gov).

Broadcasters insist that 73 million TV sets -- or about 26% of all sets in the United States -- rely on antennas to receive local TV stations, and that all of those sets would become useless under the FCC plan without digital converters, purchased by either the consumer or the government.

The National Association of Broadcasters has informed the FCC that equipping each TV set today with a $300 digital-to-analog set-top would cost consumers $22 billion.

NBC U officials Robert Okun and Bill LeBeau, in addition to outside counsel Lawrence Sidman, said they raised with FCC staff the extent to which the agency’s plan would hold consumers “harmless” by cutting off analog TV Dec. 31, 2008.

In December, the FCC postponed a vote on the digital-TV-transition plan, which has the support of chairman Michael Powell. A senior FCC source said the plan now is to resolve the issue by the end of March.