Powell Warns NAB on Spectrum Squatting


Las Vegas -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell Tuesday warned broadcasters that they could pay a high price if they don’t contribute ideas to a plan on bringing the digital-television transition to a close.

The FCC is developing such a plan under the guidance of Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree, but the National Association of Broadcasters is strongly opposed, claiming that it fails to guarantee that their digital signals will reach cable subscribers.

But in remarks at the NAB convention here, Powell said the industry could face a fate worse than the Ferree plan.

“I get worried that the other thing will happen to you, which is that the government … will combine at some point and precipitously yank [the analog spectrum] back or demand fees, which will raise your costs substantially,” he said.

Powell applauded the Ferree plan as a proposal that his agency needed to consider, but he said he had yet to endorse it.

“I have not made a decision that I think it is dead-on and that we ought to do it,” he told reporters. “It’s certainly not the final word. I haven’t even stated, knowing what I know about it, that I fully endorse it. But I fully endorse the dialogue.”

The plan would likely cause all or nearly all broadcasters to stop analog broadcasting Jan. 1, 2009. Millions of analog-TV sets not connected to converter boxes of some kind would be useless. The FCC plan does not have a solution for such consumers.

Nevertheless, Powell said, the commission had to consider a firm date to end the transition because current law was “extremely muddy” and could let the transition drag on for many years.

“We are talking 30, 40, or 50 years from now, and that’s the truth, and that’s a generally unacceptable development,” he added.