Digital TV Conversion for the Cotlar Household and Other Musings on Digital TV

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The End of TV? How to Avoid a Revolution when the Feds Shut off Analog TV, Lessons from Europe.

You may have heard that Congress will soon impose a hard date for the shut-off of analog TV broadcasts in the U.S. -- February 17, 2009. And you may have heard that their solution has been, well, let's say its less than satisfying if you don't want to pony up the monthy cash for a subscription service. Could Congress have done anything else? Consider the following article, written by yours truly last year. For the full text, you need to have access to LEXIS or WESTLAW (oh, how ironic!). [Or, if you're really nice to me, email me at andrew@apts.org and I'll send you a hard copy.]


Here's the abstract as published by CommLaw Conspectus and a link to their home page.

THE ROAD TO ANALOG SWITCH-OFF: HOW THE UNITED STATES CAN TURN OFF ITS ANALOG TELEVISION SERVICE WITHOUT SIGNIFICANT SERVICE DISRUPTION

The article argues that, based on the lessons learned from Germany and Great Britain, the cessation of analog service need not be sudden, harsh or disorienting. To accomodate consumers who rely either exclusively on over the air reception or subscribe to ditigal tv service for only one household tv, the author argues for some means to subsidize the purchase of set top converters for these types of consumers. The article argues for a gradual cessation of analog service where analog service would be shut off on a rolling geographic or market basis, coupled with a gradual decrease in power levels over time. As in many European nations, the article argues for adequate and continuing publicity about the switch from analog to digital. Finally, the article argues for the private industry to replicate an equivalent in the U.S. of Great Britain's Freeview service--a freely-available package of digital multichannel programming that has successfully been driving consumer adoption of digital television in that country.

And here's the actual, full introduction to the article with more detail.

The American media landscape is undergoing a fundamental transformation as the television broadcast service transitions to a wholly digital infrastructure. Initiated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1987, and subsequently amended and modified by a series of FCC orders and Congressional acts, including the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the digital television (DTV) transition promises to revolutionize television. The inherent flexibility of DTV allows for the transmission of high-definition programming or the simultaneous transmission of multiple standard definition programming as well as ancillary data delivery. This flexibility can bring a new range of wireless entertainment and educational experiences to the American public that were not possible before.

Moreover, the DTV transition will require the return of 108 MHz of analog TV spectrum in the 700 MHz band back to the federal government and a repacking of the TV band into the core of channels 2 through 51. A portion of the former TV channels at 700 MHz is slated to be assigned for public safety purposes (24 MHz at the spectrum between 764 MHz through 806 MHz), while the remaining portion will be assigned for advanced wireless purposes through existing auction procedures. As a result, a successful DTV transition has the potential to enhance public safety, encourage the deployment of innovative wireless services to the American public, provide an estimated $4-17 billion to the U.S. Treasury and contribute an even greater amount – estimated to be between $30-60 billion annually -- to the U.S. economy by spurring economic development.

To bring about a successful transition to DTV, Congress has mandated, and the FCC has implemented, a highly complex plan that involves the allocation of a second DTV channel to nearly all incumbent full power television broadcasters, the mandated build-out of digital facilities (and penalties for non-compliance), the creation of numerous service rules for digital broadcasts, limited cable carriage of DTV broadcast signals, and the eventual reclamation of channels used for analog transmission by the end of 2006 with market-by-market extensions allowed in cases where 15% or more households cannot receive the digital signals of over-the-air television stations.

Only recently, however, have lobbyists and policymakers in Washington turned their attention to how analog switch-off should be implemented without causing major disruptions in service. In other words, once the DTV transition is completed, what will the final days look like? Will there be a gradual and largely unnoticed cessation of analog service? Or will there be a sudden, harsh and disorienting process that harms consumer interests and provokes a political backlash?

This article argues that, based on the lessons learned from Germany and Great Britain, the cessation of analog service need not be sudden, harsh or disorienting. Rather, an effective analog cessation plan can be crafted to accommodate those consumers who either (a) rely exclusively on over-the-air reception or (b) subscribe to a digital multichannel television service for one television set but who possess additional television sets that are not connected. In this regard, there must be some means of subsidizing the purchase of digital-to-analog set-top converters for millions of households of this type. This article sets out what kind of subsidy could be used and how it could be implemented. In addition, consistent with proposals in Europe, this article advocates a gradual cessation of analog television service–a “fade to black” approach whereby analog service would be shut off on a rolling geographic or market basis, coupled with a gradual decrease in power levels over time as digital broadcasters increase to full power. This article also argues, as various European nations have recognized, that there must be adequate and continuing publicity through a wide range of media concerning the schedule for analog cessation and options for continuing to receive broadcast television. To accomplish this purpose, the Federal Government should create an independent quasi-governmental entity – SwitchCoUSA— that is modeled on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Science Foundation or the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lastly, this article proposes that it would be helpful, though not necessary, to the success of any analog cessation plan for private industry to replicate an equivalent in the U.S. of Great Britain’s Freeview service—a freely-available package of digital multichannel programming that has proven successful in driving consumer adoption of DTV in that country.

Part I of this article provides an overview of the DTV transition to date and describes the issues with which Washington policymakers are faced concerning how to manage the cessation of analog television in the United States. Part II describes the European experience with DTV, as various European Union (EU) countries begin the process of planning for a cessation of analog broadcast television. Particular focus is placed on Germany and Great Britain and the lessons to be learned from the advanced deployment of DTV in those countries. Part III identifies the consumer impact of analog cessation in the United States, providing information on the extent and nature of reliance on over-the-air broadcasting in this country. Lastly, Part IV discusses targeted solutions to ensure a smooth post-analog transition, including subsidies for the purchase of converter equipment, a gradualist approach to shutting down analog service, the institutions and public outreach necessary to prevent massive disruption, and the importance of establishing a freely available digital broadcast service.

3 Comments:

At 6:32 PM, Blogger David said...

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At 6:39 AM, Blogger D.C. Bowns said...

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