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CONTACT: David Fish
June 2 , 2004
(202) 289-8928
Economist to Hill: Speed DTV Transition
Lenard Testifies Before House Panel, Suggests “New Ideas”

WASHINGTON D.C. - Congress must consider "new ideas" in order to speed up the national transition from analog to digital television, Progress & Freedom Foundation economist Thomas M. Lenard told Congress on Wednesday in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. He said significant consumer benefits - in the form of better television, new wireless applications using freed analog spectrum and money to the treasury from spectrum sales - would ensue.

Lenard told lawmakers "the transition to DTV has foundered on the shoals of a government policy that is at odds with the reality of where the market is going", noting that the current plan is "premised on a transition to free over-the-air broadcast DTV when, in fact, only 10 percent of the viewing population receives its television that way, and that percentage is declining over time." He said a primary goal of the FCC "should be to free up as much of the spectrum allocated to broadcast TV as soon as possible."

"The current deadline for the end of the transition when the broadcasters are supposed to relinquish their analog spectrum - December 31, 2006 - is not a meaningful deadline.because it is conditional on 85 percent of households in any market being able to receive digital broadcasts," he noted. "The way the condition is now interpreted, cable and satellite don't count toward the 85 percent." Thus, the FCC's effort "to move the process forward" by devising a plan that would count cable subscribers toward the Congressionally-established threshold represents progress. Still, the agency's proposed new deadline of 2009 "is still quite a long way off." Notes Lenard, "In this Internet age, it is not too early to start thinking about freeing up all of the spectrum [402MHz] allocated to broadcast, because it may not be long before virtually all Americans will get their TV from another source."

Earlier this year, Lenard published a related study, "Accelerating the Transition to Digital TV: The Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act Can Help." He argued that allowing satellite providers to retransmit "distant digital signals [when the programming is not available locally] would help the DTV transition by moving viewers to subscription TV."

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



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