Forcing TV Broadcasters To Catch Up To The 1990s

One of the issues we follow at Techdirt is the transition of TV broadcasts from analog to Digital. By transitioning, and using technologies available for 20 years, the same TV shows could be transmitted in one fifth the spectrum. Yet the TV broadcasters are reluctant to upgrade for a reasons of varied validity: i) it costs money to upgrade, ii) they are squatting on valuable spectrum and want to figure out a way they can profit from it instead of just giving it back, iii) why should they upgrade when most people don’t have digital TV receivers. Of course, there is a lot of chicken and egg in point (iii), where slow production and adoption rates of digital TVs are the cause and result of the dearth of digital broadcasts. The current laws forcing the TV guys to vacate the spectrum have a loophole that states that if “more than 15 percent of the homes in their viewing areas cannot receive digital signals”, then broadcasters can retain the spectrum. The bar is set quite high: Digital TV has to pass 85% penetration before broadcasters are forced to vacate, and by dragging their heels, they kill the odds of passing 85%? But Meanwhile, the US people lose the benefit of other uses for that wasted spectrum, namely, public safety and commercial uses like wireless broadband. So Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), is co-sponsoring legislation to remove the loophole that broadcasters plan to exploit. The Hero Act, if passed, will put a hard stop to analog TV broadcasts on Jan. 1, 2007. There is wide-ranging support for this bill, but don’t get your hopes up yet…the TV lobby is powerful, and earlier legislation that tried to force the broadcasters was stripped out of prior Bills. If you’re motivated, contact your congressperson or senator to let them know where you stand on the Hero Act.

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