Michael Fiorile, the President and CEO of Dispatch Broadcast Group, spoke before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday, September 25, about the effects a forced 2006 NTSC shutdown would have on the viewing public. Fiorile spoke on behalf of the NAB, where he holds the Television Chair. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Association for Maximum Service Television. Fiorile told the committee that “Bottom line - if the government wants to reclaim spectrum – it must take steps to accelerate the over-the-air transition. Our position supports three fundamental congressional objectives approved by the Supreme Court: preservation of a robust, free, over-the-air television system, promoting a multiplicity of voices especially for non-cable homes and promoting competition.”
Current law calls for spectrum to be returned no later than Dec. 31, 2006, but it doesn’t force a return until 85 percent of the viewers in any given market can receive DTV. The NAB opposes any policy that would shutdown NTSC service before the 85 percent penetration level is reached. Fiorile pointed out that the 2006 deadline enacted by Congress was done “not as telecommunications policy but as budget policy.”
The NAB said that draft legislation being proposed by the committee would force TV stations to return their NTSC channels at the end of 2006, regardless of DTV penetration.
The NAB also maintains that cable carriage is central to the DTV transition and that not only should a DTV station’s primary program be carried, but that the entire bit stream should be carried on cable without degradation. The NAB doesn’t want cable to “invade” a DTV bit stream for anticompetitive purposes.
California Congresswoman Jane Harmon introduced a bill last December titled the Homeland Emergency Response Operations Act or HERO Act. It proposes to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to prohibit the FCC from granting any extension beyond December 31, 2006. It also directs the FCC to complete assignment of the spectrum between 764 and 776 Mhz and between 794 and 806 Mhz for public safety services and to permit operations by public safety services on those frequencies no later than January 1, 2007. During opening statements in the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee hearing on DTV last week, Harmon said that the freeing up of channels 63 through 69, whether the DTV 85 percent penetration level has been reached or not, might prevent a similar lack of communications experienced by the New York Fire Department during the World Trade Center disaster.
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