Cisco, Microsoft: 'Close Window on Analog'


To convince wary lawmakers that a quick switch to all-digital TV is necessary, many of the biggest U.S. technology companies have formally teamed up to push for a “hard” deadline for shutting off old analog signals.

With House legislation expected imminently that would establish a deadline, perhaps as soon as Dec. 31, 2006, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Dell, T-Mobile and others Wednesday announced formation of the High Tech DTV Coalition.

The companies all plan to develop products that will operate on what are now broadcast channels 52-69, the band of analog channels the government plans to reclaim and auction to new users.

The group endorsed House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton’s plan to stick with the 2006 date, though they said a “reasonable” delay would be acceptable if a later date is necessary to win congressional passage.

Barton has said he has the votes to get the legislation through the House, but little enthusiasm for the idea has been voiced in the Senate.

The coalition will be led by Executive Director Janice Obuchowski, who ran the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the White House's telco policy adviser, during the first Bush administration and who several times has been on the short list of candidates for open FCC seats.

She has most recently been a communications consultant. The lack of certainty over the date when the federal government will reclaim broadcasters’ old analog spectrum is delaying the high-tech industry’s efforts to develop new broadband products and services that will operate in the band, the group says.

Obuchowski pledged to work with broadcasters to ensure that TV viewers don’t lose service because of “transition issues.”

The coalition members pledged to support federal subsidies that will help low-income viewers buy converters needed to keep old analog sets working in the all-digital era.

The coalition plans to stay out of related fights over cable’s obligation to carry the multiple  channels that digital allows TV stations to transmit or over public interest obligations FCC Democrats want imposed on broadcasters.

In letters to leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, the coalition wrote that the channels slated to be reclaimed from broadcasters offer a rare opportunity to spark new growth in the high-tech sector, provide broadband to rural areas and--because a few channels will be turned over to local emergency officials--ease a public safety spectrum crunch, all familiar arguments to followers of the debate over reclaiming broadcast channels.

NAB President Eddie Fritts, in a letter of his own to lawmakers, reiterated that broadcasters support a DTV deadline, but warned that Congress should not shut off traditional analog channels until the majority of viewers are equipped to receive a digital signal.

“The corporate financial interests of a handful of technology companies should not trump the needs of American television viewers,” he wrote.