statement of Rep. Joe Barton
Re: House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet hearing on the transition to digital television.
Date: June 2, 2004.
Source: House Commerce Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the FCC Media Bureau proposal to expedite the DTV transition. Expediting the transition is one of my top communications policy objectives, and I am intrigued so far by what I have heard of the proposal. I am eager to learn more, and thank the witnesses for coming to testify.
The proposal is rooted in Section 309 of the Communications Act, which sets December 31, 2006, as the goal for return of the analog spectrum. Section 309 also allows for extensions, however. For example, a broadcaster may seek an extension if 15 percent or more of consumers in its market cannot view digital broadcasts, whether via cable, satellite, digital receivers, or analog televisions with converter boxes. Consistent with the statute, the Media Bureau proposal would count consumers toward the 85 percent that can view digital broadcasts even if they were watching on analog televisions in ordinary definition over their cable or satellite service.
This is appropriate. Section 309 is not about promoting high-definition television directly, but about reclaiming the analog spectrum as soon as possible while minimizing the number of consumers who must take additional steps after the transition to continue watching television.
Some criticize the proposal for not promoting high-definition television. I believe it does. When faced with the end of analog broadcasts, more consumers will purchase high-definition televisions. And the more high-definition televisions in the marketplace, the more broadcasters, cable, and satellite will offer high-definition content.
Also keep in mind that not even the broadcasters argue that this transition is exclusively about high-definition. They continue to argue for multicast must-carriage, under which consumers would receive multiple standard definition streams rather than a single high-definition one.
Some also argue that by expediting the transition the proposal will give consumers less time to replace their analog televisions. But again, consumers will be more likely to purchase digital televisions when faced with the end of analog broadcasts. Moreover, the statute has always contemplated ending the transition with as many as 15 percent of households needing to take steps to continue receiving television broadcasts. The Media Bureau proposal is expected to impact fewer consumers than that, since by the end of 2006 many more consumers will have digital televisions, cable service, satellite service, or digital-to-analog converter boxes.
I also note that the broadcasters have been seeking mandatory carriage of both their analog and digital broadcasts simultaneously under the must-carry rules. Under that proposal, the transition would come to an end at about the same time as under the Media Bureau proposal, in light of the fact that in some markets almost 85 percent of customers already subscribe to cable or satellite.
That is not to say that I support dual carriage or other digital must-carry
proposals. The Media Bureau proposal would grant broadcasters multicast
must-carry rights. I am skeptical of must-carry in the analog world. I have
yet to be convinced why it should be expanded in the digital world. Market
forces are and will continue to promote high-definition and multicast television
where and when appropriate.