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CEA Endorses FCC Media Bureau DTV Plan

With a few key modifications, the digital television (DTV) transition proposal offered by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Media Bureau will help spur the nation’s transition from analogto digital television, ensure spectrum recovery and provide DTV to the home, said Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President and CEO Gary Shapiro. Shapiro made his comments in testimonydelivered today before a hearing on the proposal held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

While commending the proposal as further evidence of the FCC’s longstanding focus on the DTV transition, Shapiro proposed six modifications to the Media Bureau’s plan. Specifically, Shapiro argued for a national digital transition for broadcast signals carried on cable.

“Cable is the television delivery method of choice for the vast majority of American viewers,” Shapiro said. “The DTV transition is not just about recovering the analog spectrum; it also is about bringing a new and improved TV experience to consumers. Indeed, a primary reason that broadcasters were allocated 6 MHz of spectrum in the first place was to allow them to provide their viewers with a full high-definition (HDTV) signal.”

To that end, Shapiro called on Congress and the FCC to require cable and digital broadcast satellite providers to transmit all broadcasters’ DTV signals digitally by January 2009, rather than sending only a version that is down converted at the head-end. He added that broadcast signals must remain unencrypted when cable operators carry them digitally, preserving the concept of “free over-the-air TV.”

Shapiro also asked that the FCC, “require that cable operators not reduce the sound or picture quality when they are carrying broadcast signals digitally. If a broadcaster is making the investment to provide HDTV programming and Dolby Digital surround sound, then that is what the cable viewer should see and hear.”

Shapiro continued to call for unadulterated and robust DTV signals as he urged mandatory cable carriage of all free bits sent by the broadcaster and full-power broadcasting.

“While many DTV stations claim to be replicating their analog broadcast service area,” Shapiro stated, “according to FCC data, only 477 of the 1,362 commercial broadcast stations are actually delivering a full power DTV signal. The result is unused spectrum.”

In his final proposed modification to the Media Bureau plan, Shapiro called on the FCC to ensure a competitive market for cable “plug-and-play” equipment by requiring cable operators to rely on separable security or “CableCARDs” in the equipment they lease to consumers.

“Currently, more than fifty percent of cable subscribers do not rely on a set-top box to connect to their cable system,” noted Shapiro. “When digital cable ready sets are introduced en masse in a few months, American consumers – 70 percent of whom rely on cable for their primary TV reception – will be able to buy a DTV, plug the set into their wall and, with a local operator’s CableCARD, view glorious high-definition programming without a set-top box.

“We anticipate that more than one million digital cable ready sets will be sold over the next several months. The cable industry must be ready to make them available to subscribers in a fast, simple and consumer-friendly manner,” Shapiro continued.

Shapiro offered additional steps the FCC could take to speed the digital transition. He pointed specifically to DBS carriage to so-called “white areas” and the rejection of “selectable output controls” and other measures that threaten home recording and fair use rights.

“CEA urges Congress to allow satellite providers to carry distant network signals in areas where local broadcasters are not providing them,” Shapiro said. “Viewers should not be deprived of the HDTV experience just because a local broadcaster is not yet offering the service. They also should not be deprived of HDTV because of the content community’s fear of pirates. Americans will not rush to purchase HDTV if their viewing privileges can be revoked unilaterally, by a third party, through no fault of the consumer.”

Shapiro underscored that the transition to DTV is already an overwhelming marketplace success.

“DTV sales have surpassed those of the VCR, PC and color TV at a similar point after introduction,” noted Shapiro. “We are only at the start of the steep ‘hockey stick curve’ of sales. CEA forecasts that 5.7 million digital television units will be sold this year, 9.4 million in 2005, 15.6 million in 2006 and 23 million in 2007. By 2010 we expect that more than 90 million DTV sets will reside in American homes, and more than 85 percent of American homes will contain over-the-air DTV tuners.”

Shapiro concluded, “The modifications we offer today to the proposed plan will help ensure that this transition proceeds apace in a manner that meets the needs and desires of consumers as well as the need for quick return of the analog spectrum.”