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Chairman Stevens’ Opening Statement
DTV Transition Hearing I
July 12, 2005 at 10 am
This hearing is going to examine issues relating to setting a hard date to complete the DTV transition. We believe a hard date is necessary. This issue has been in the works since 1996. Public safety needs spectrum for interoperability and new services. Consumers need to will get far better video and audio services and more over-the-air programming. And, consumers will also get a new series of services from recovered 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum, such as wireless broadband. It’s the feeling of this Committee that must balance broadcast, cable, and satellite interests with regard to digital and analog carriage after the analog broadcasts cease
Broadcasters want to ensure that all of their signals are seen by as many viewers as possible. Cable wants time to proceed with their own digital transition and doesn’t want to have to immediately deploy cable converter boxes to all of their analog subscribers. And, satellite is worried about spectrum concerns related to high definition that could force them to significantly reduce the number of local-to-local markets that they can serve due to capacity constraints.
We look forward to hearing your testimony.
Opening Statement of Senator Conrad Burns
Welcome to all of you, and thank you for taking the time to appear today. I look forward to hearing from each of you on the digital TV transition. The bill we will pass later this year may be one of the most important things we do this Congress, at least in terms of its immediate impact on the average consumer. And for that reason, it is vital that we do it right. Americans feel strongly about television, and they depend on it in their everyday lives for everything from entertainment to news to education and children’s programming. I think we have to be very careful not to do anything that would cut off consumers from this service that they have come to expect and depend on. And the complexity of the issue, especially regarding how the new digital broadcast signals will be transmitted over multichannel service operators, only makes it that much more difficult.
But we have to look at the opportunity here for consumers as well. Digital signals have better quality and allow for more channels and more programming in the same bandwidth, and we should make sure we allow these benefits to flow to the consumer to the maximum degree possible. Broadcasters all over the country have spent a great deal of effort and resources in recent years to upgrade to digital in their over-the-air signals, and I would hope that the cable and satellite companies, who are represented here today, see the value in passing along the improvements that digital broadcasting represents to their customers as well. But of course, we also do not want to put any unnecessary burdens, or even technically impossible ones, on these networks, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about where that proper balance should lie.
One element in all this that I think has not been stressed enough is the role of market forces – that is, what consumers actually want. The discussion has been about hard dates, mandates, new FCC rules, and the like. I wonder whether we should be listening to consumers, who are all our constituents, on this a great deal more than we have so far, before making any big decisions. But at the same time, there is also evidently not much awareness out there – in fact, I’d say pretty close to none at all – that this is really happening: that the government is getting ready to take away analog spectrum, and so make literally millions of TV sets inoperable, in every home in America. So far, the public education effort seems to have been inadequate, to say the least.
So in your testimony, to the degree possible, I would like each of you to indicate what you think the market – your customers– really want out of this; and what you feel each of your companies’ responsibility is in educating the public about this transition.
Thank you all very much again for appearing, and I look forward to your testimony.
Olympia J. SnoweSenator
SNOWE STATEMENT ON DIGITAL TELEVISION TRANSITION
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, today participated in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the digital television transition. Snowe voiced her concern that rural America not be left behind in this transition, announcing that she will introduce later this week the Low Power Digital Television Transition Assistance Act to ensure rural access to digital television. This bill focuses on the small translators and low power stations which provide content to rural areas, giving them more time to transition along with grants to ease the cost. Following is Snowe’s statement for the hearing:
"Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to address the upcoming digital television transition. Spectrum is easily one of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, and its potential remains largely untapped. We are hear today to learn how to make the DTV transition move forward, with minimal consumer disruption, in order to allow new technologies to access this valuable spectrum.
“While for most of the 20th Century we gave little thought to the fact that radio and television stations occupy significant portions of these invisible airwaves to distribute their product, over the past 20 years we have seen an explosion in the innovative uses of spectrum. From wireless phones to wireless Internet to whatever the next generation of technology may produce, spectrum enables us to expand our nation’s economy, its standard of living, and its ability to communicate in the most efficient and effective ways possible.
“The value of the public airwaves is evident in the amount of money private, commercial companies are willing to pay to acquire exclusive licenses to various bandwidths. Government and private sector estimates predict that the auction proceeds from the broadcaster’s analog spectrum will be anywhere between $10 and $28 billion. Freeing up these bandwidths – particularly in the 700 MHz to 800 MHz range – would also give added airwaves space to our nation’s police, fire, EMS, and other first responders, whose current radio allocations are being squeezed more and more every day. Providing for public safety and investing in education and technology advancements are but some of the benefits of returning this valuable resource to the federal government.
“But the enticement of this multitude of future possibilities for spectrum should not distract us from preserving the very institutions that we value today. Quite simply, free television must continue to exist in the United States. Television is the method by which most Americans obtain news, entertainment, and educational information. Even low-income families and retirees on fixed pensions who are unable to afford the ever-rising rates charged by cable and satellite TV providers can still gain access to images of their neighborhood, their nation, and their world by simply raising an antenna and pressing a button on their television consoles. Like public schools, libraries, and radio, television is one of those great equalizers in American society. Any proposals that have the potential to limit Americans’ ability to receive free broadcast television should be examined with the strictest of scrutiny.
“Digital television brings new benefits to consumers, benefits that amount to more than just a crystal clear picture. Because the digital signal occupies less space than analog signals, broadcasters will be able to multi-cast additional channels allowing for more local weather, news and educational programming.
“Moreover, rural America must not be left behind in the transition. Later this week, I will introduce the Low Power Digital Television Transition Assistance Act. The goal of this bill is not to be a comprehensive approach, but focus on the small translators and low power stations which provide content to rural areas. By giving translator and low power analog stations more time to transition along with grants to ease the cost, rural America will not be left behind.
“Additionally, I have heard from several constituent broadcasters in my home state of Maine who have experienced delays, expenses, and other difficulties in making the digital transition due to concerns raised by the Canadian government over the digital signals’ potential interference in Canadian markets. I want to ensure that these stations’ problems are solved before the transition is over.
“As Congress, the FCC and industry continue to move forward with the DTV transition, we must remember that with use of the public airwaves, regardless of the technology, comes responsibility to the public interest. How will we address the interests of those viewers relying solely on over-the-air television? More broadly, which proposals will best promote consumer choice, localism in broadcasting, and overall competition within the television industry? What sort of responsibility is appropriate for companies who use their licenses for wireless phone and wireless Internet services?
“I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panels on these issues. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Richard SlenkerExecutive Vice PresidentDirecTV
Mr. Kyle McSlarrowPresident and CEONational Cable & Telecommunications Association
Mr. Patrick KnorrVice ChairmanAmerican Cable Association
Mr. Manuel AbudVice President & General ManagerKVEA-TV in Los Angeles (Telemundo)
Mr. John LawsonExecutive Vice PresidentION Media Networks
Mr. Edward FrittsPresident and CEONational Association of Broadcasters