October 18, 2005 9:49 AM PDT

Politico wants to move up DTV deadline

WASHINGTON--A chunk of radio spectrum would be freed up by late 2006 or early 2007 for first responders and those interested in easier deployment of broadband networks, if one senator gets his way.

That requirement could appear as an amendment to a draft digital-television bill currently scheduled for a committee vote on Thursday, said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. The existing bill calls for a "hard deadline" of April 7, 2009, by which all analog broadcasters must give up their piece of the spectrum and switch to all-digital transmission.

"Can we really afford to wait until 2009 to transfer this spectrum?" McCain said at a Tuesday morning policy event here hosted by the New America Foundation. "I don't think so."


What's new:
Sen. John McCain and other lawmakers are pushing for a quick shift to digital television broadcasting, which would free up radio spectrum for use by first responders in emergency situations.

Bottom line:
Although a complete transition to digital TV broadcasts is due by April 7, 2009, under an existing bill, McCain and others want to see it happen by late 2006 or early 2007.

More stories on this topic

The impetus for moving up the deadline, McCain has maintained, is that the television channels on which analog broadcasts operate are occupying valuable spectrum that emergency workers need to communicate with each other. The government plans to allocate a chunk of the freed-up spectrum for that purpose and to auction off the rest for billions of dollars to companies eager to deploy new broadband services.

At Tuesday's event, the senator was backed by several officials who have worked closely with emergency response issues.

Timothy Roemer, who served on the 9/11 Commission, said the group found disjointed communications among emergency officials at Ground Zero and recommended increased spectrum as a solution to the problem. Waiting four more years for the shift is way too long, he said: "I think Congress is neglecting its responsibility to protect its citizens."

Greg Meffert, chief technology officer for the city of New Orleans, said he agreed that the time to act is now. "If this spectrum was available on Aug. 28, 2005," he said, referring to the date Hurricane Katrina struck the port city, "a lot of things would have been different."

Others chalked up the tech benefits that could be derived from the switch. The analog, or 700 MHz, band has been touted for its natural physical properties--that is, theoretically, its signals travel straighter and farther and don't necessarily require a clear line of sight, arguably cutting back on engineering costs.

Robert LeGrande, deputy chief technology officer for the District of Columbia, demonstrated a system called the Wireless Accelerated Responder Network, which 15 public safety agencies in the region have been piloting through an "experimental license" on a piece of the analog spectrum. The system allows public safety officials to talk to each other across thick-walled, cement buildings and in subway tunnels--something they couldn't do as readily at other frequency bands. Users can also share streaming video and images from disparate locations.

LeGrande said his ultimate goal--"to build an interoperable broadband wireless network from the Atlantic to the Pacific"--isn't possible with the current amount of spectrum that's available. He said the Washington, D.C., region is ready to deploy a wireless broadband network for its first responders by next summer, and it's pushing on its own to clear local broadcasters off the spectrum by the end of 2007.

High-tech endorsement, consumer concerns
Enthusiasm for the shift to digital television extends well into the technology realm. On Friday, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and other high-tech officials sent a letter to lawmakers in Congress that urged a speedy transition to DTV, according to an Associated Press report. Freed up radio spectrum, the letter said, could be used in part to supply wireless broadband service to rural and poor areas.

Under current law, the digital television shift was scheduled to occur by Dec. 31, 2006, or whenever 85 percent of households are able to receive digital broadcasts.

From the consumer's standpoint, the switch can be achieved in several ways: buying a television equipped with a digital tuner, buying a digital-to-analog converter box (estimated cost: $50) for one's existing analog television, or relying on cable or satellite signals, the providers of which intend to upgrade as necessary.

By one consumer group's count, as many as 80 million television sets rely on analog signals, and would need to be wired for digital cable or outfitted with the digital-to-analog converter boxes. But by 2009, only about 7 percent of television viewers--still several million--will be relying solely on analog, "over-the-air" broadcasts, according to Consumer Electronics Association estimates.

Licenses to use the newly freed-up spectrum would be put up for sale beginning Jan. 28, 2008, according to the draft proposal. Of the money raised, $4.8 billion would have to be transferred to the general Treasury fund by Oct. 2, 2009, to offset other federal expenses or tax cuts.

Other proceeds would go to a fund specially designated for subsidizing the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes, converting low-power TV stations from analog to digital, and "providing systems to coastal states affected by hurricanes and other disasters."

That fund would also bankroll programs to implement the Enhance 911 Act of 2004. That measure calls for upgrades to emergency call center answering points so that they can access the "enhanced" 911 network, which is able to pinpoint a caller's geographic location.


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What else will they justify?
Isn't it amazing what a politician can justify by playing the "public safety" card? I just laugh at the quote:

"Can we really afford to wait until 2009 to transfer this spectrum?" McCain said at a Tuesday morning policy event here hosted by the New America Foundation. "I don't think so."

The freaking country has stood perfectly fine for 200 years without completely collapsing... what the hell difference will 4 more years make?

I wonder what the *REAL* motivation (aside from political "attention" mongering) is behind this... what lobby group is putting on the pressure?
Posted by PlaceHolder (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just a thought...
I think the motivation lies in billions of dollars they will get in license fees for the soon to be available spectrum. Don't get me wrong I have HDTV with unused digital tuner and would love to use it, but lets call a duck a duck and just say what we really mean. If that spectrum is evacuated the money will come rolling in so fast it will make your head spin and the emergeny networks who are supposed to be the real winners here will get their share after the money has been made.
Posted by (12 comments )
Link Flag
You have a point ...
I remember the public safety card was played before. It's how Bush got re-elected. I'm convinced he would have lost ridiculously if there was no 9-11. I always wonder what people thought ... Kerry was going to put up a sign on the Statue of Liberty saying, "Bring me your terrorists, etc. etc."? Anyway, when people complain about Bush now I am always tempted to say ... hey, you put him back in office.
Posted by msanto (44 comments )
Link Flag
It's a good move...
... to many people want to drag their feet for any number of
usually unimportant reasons. The move is on to digital TV and I
favor making the push as fast as possible.

In the late 40's or so, a less than mediocre TV broadcast system
was chosen, with various political hogs at the trough. We also
got an inferior FM-Stereo broadcast system in the same way.
Now, CD's and Satellite radio have virtually eliminated local
broadcasting for the people who care about audio quality, and
for those who dislike the geographic bounds on terrestrial
broadcasting stations.

Now it's time to upgrade TV to true quality, digital HDTV. It's
going to happen, so let's do it and get on with our lives. Those
of us who care will appreciate the image quality (if not the
content quality). The rest of the viewers can stay with their NTSC
TV's and a small set top box. We did it before, with add on UHF
tuners. No big deal. We can do it again.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You confuse digital with quality
I can currently receive digital broadcasts from my cable company... and a majority of the time the content is overcompressed crap (no I don't me the content, I mean the quality of the video encoding.)

I'm sure it is possible to produce something valuable... but unfortunately the same uninformed masses that buy into the idea that the politician is selling (about needing digital TV to get spectrum for emergency services) are the same people that buy Britney Spears and are the same people that think reality TV is compelling... These kinds of people will take whatever crappily supplied multiply-transcoded mush of a digital signal, pump it into a [soon to be] cheap $300 "digital TV" (that is really only just SDTV or EDTV and **not** HDTV) and think they're state of the art.

/me ****SHIVERS**** at the insanity of it all...
Posted by PlaceHolder (16 comments )
Link Flag
Forget all broadcast TV
Check out FCC report:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fcc.gov/mb/csrptpg.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.fcc.gov/mb/csrptpg.html</a> (Choose first report scroll to page 115 Table B-1)

There is something like 108 million TV households in the US. 92 million of them get signals from something OTHER than broadcast (cable, satellite, etc). Let's dump broadcast - reserve some of its spectrum for emergency use, auction off the rest, use 0.0001% of income from that to buy the remaining 10 million people basic cable. Since this is by far the best spectrum (thats why it was handed over to CBS and other ultra-powerful media in the 40s), well also get cell phones that never loose signals and transmit data at 1Gbps.

I expect better from McCain.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Are they going to buy me a new TV?
All these big wigs want to push legislation and force broadcasters to move to HD singals... will they be buying me a new TV?
Posted by ronzorelli (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't recall reading anything about HD.
Posted by Destian (2 comments )
Link Flag
Just ask DirecTv / EchoStar friends
You won't need a new TV, unless you want higher quality, but only if they'll ever broadcast in higher quality. Satelite signals are 99% digital, even though vaaast majority of TV's are analog. So all you need is a converter box. DBS providers give it away for free, so it should cost all of $5.99 at Walmart.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
In a word....
... NO
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
DTV deadline
The main thing somebody has to explain to senators, is that digital does not mean High Definition. Because of this confusion, cable and broadcasters even support this now.
The reason, they will split up each HD channel bandwidth to transmit 6 regular definition junk.
We need less channels, but all high definition.
Who needs 500 channels of mediocre quality programming? Only cable operators and broadcasters. They will tell you , we give you up to 500 channels of programming, so you might think you are getting value. In reality it gives them more chances to get more commercials from advertizers. Let's rebel, and let everybody know, what's happening. And it's pathetic.
Posted by arkster (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pay for Tax Cuts???
What gets me about this is that the funds from the
spectrum licenses will be used in part to pay "for
tax cuts".

So in other words, poor people need to buy set top
converters so Bush's rich constituents can keep
their tax breaks. That sounds like a transfer
payment to me; kind of like a reverse Robin Hood.

The other thing that gets me is that there is
plenty of spectrum for "first responders" now.
Exactly how many UHF channels broadcast snow right
now? And how many others broadcast Shop At Home

I predict that maybe 12 MHz is given over to public
use (police, fire, etc.) if we're lucky. And the
rest (100 MHz) gets sold to private interests.
Like cellular companies, who then get to charge us
exhorbitant rates to use it.

Senator McCain, you have disappointed me.
Posted by sam99999999 (139 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Extra Bandwidth Will NOT Fix The Problem...
There is plenty of bandwidth out there now for these services but every disparate agency wants their own disparate communications system.
The answer does not require bandwidth as it will not change that mindset. Rather the answer is a standardization of communications between disparate agencies. Given that every constituency has their own communications "guru" and just as many companies that have incompatible equipment this won't happen anytime soon.

Fred Dunn
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better get to DC...
... and fast. All the experts and scientists, and communications
people are very concerned about the distinct shortage of bandwidth
for governmental and civilian services. If you are in anyway serious
about your claim that there is plenty of bandwidth to go around,
many people in DC would definitely like to hear from you.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
You don't need digital cable
The article said that up to 80 million TVs would need to be fitted with digital cable boxes or digital OTA boxes. This is wrong - all existing TVs need is analog cable. "Digital" cable just means it receives digital signals for some or all channels over the wires from the cable company.

Only 15, maybe 20% of households (mostly poor and/or rural, or "anti-boob-tube") get their reception solely off of the air. However, even in houses with cable or satellite, large numbers have 1 or 2 (or more) TVs which aren't connected to the cabling. That's where the added problems come in.
Posted by jesup (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Try to avoid it....
Satellite and cable boxes are already digital. The input signals
are digital, the outputs are as yo choose. Analog programs are
converted to digital before transmission. And any good set top
box will provide the output in either composite video or
component video. I have no trouble running analog TV sets with
an HDTV tuner showing HDTV (digital) programming. The video
is not as good as it is on the big HDTV set, but it works better
than normal TV.

That's DirecTV, but cable does the same thing. A new set top
box, perhaps, but no more. It could be free, or it might cost.
Anyone remember adding a UHF tuner box to the old VHF only
TV's ???

Life does have relatively cheap options in this case
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Actually you are wrong
Actually you are wrong.
According to what I know of this ...originally by the end of 2006 all analog tv broadcast signal would stop thus everyone would need a digital signal receiver which most newer Tv sets already have built in...but those who have older sets would only get snow once the analog signal goes dark...the cable companies have been pusing this for a quite a few years...so I am not sure where you got your info from ...but it was incorrect
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Cable and Satellite are irrelevant...
The cable and satellite companies are not affected by this switch. Only broadcast TV. This bit of misinformation is what brings all the conspiracies out. Again, this mandate affects ONLY over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts. Cable and satellite started the switch to digital years ago, not because of a mandate, but because they could cram more channels into that little cable that comes into your house.

Sure, this is all about the money. What's new in America? However, it does have some obvious benefits. Replacing 60 year old technology is just the start. There's a reason everything is going "digital" these days. It's more efficient, costs less, and provides higher quality. The whole "freeing up spectrum" thing for "public safety", while overstressed, doesn't mean it isn't true.

Today, you can buy TV's with digital tuners for the same price as an analog TV. Sure, it's no widescreen plasma, but we're talking about poor Grandma that can't afford cable/satellite. A $50-$100 tuner box (if not cheaper given subsidies/scale of economy) and she's watching all the normal OTA signals as she is now. In most major markets the big broadcasters started dual broadcasting several years ago anyway. The signal is already there.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Just rip the band aid off
I look at the US DTV transition &#38; compare it to Germany, England &#38; other markets, and cringe. We're approaching it the same way we approached the metric system, the dollar coin (which was supposed to revolutionize vending machines in the 70s) and other change. We tout the progress, then laziness &#38; fear of change kicks in &#38; we cling to the status quo.
Broadcasters got 2 for 1 licenses when they agreed to go digital. Now it's time to live up to their end of the bargain &#38; surrender their analog channels (&#38; finally go fullpower on their digital ones). Of course this was to be accompanied by the "$99 set top box" for legacy sets, which seems as far away as it did in the early 90s when this transition was being pitched. Faced with the prospects of every legacy set becoming a doorstop, the powers that be would overcome their inertia &#38; get to work on a solution. Let's just take the plunge &#38; get it done with!
Posted by punterjoe (163 comments )
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