The message from equipment manufacturers and retailers on the transition from analog to digital TV is this: If you come up with a hard date, they will build it.
Representatives from both groups said Thursday that they are are ready to supply analog-to-DTV converter boxes for as little as $67 (Motorola and, perhaps, Radio Shack) and a DTV set for under $300 (RCA) if Congress will just set a hard date for the DTV transition.
That message was delivered to a House Telecommunications Subcommittee panel Thursday from consumer electronics firms.
The transition date is currently Dec. 31, 2006, but with the caveat that at least 85% of the households in a market must be able to receive a digital signal before that market can pull the plug on analog.
David Arland, VP, communications and government affairs, for Thompson, said that if Congress will set a date, he's got a 27 inch set for under $300 and a 32 inch for under $400 that could help drive the transition.
Leonard Roberts, chairman and CEO of RadioShack, said his company was working on a converter box that could fall in the same price range as Motorola's $67 pledge, so long as he had a hard date to drive interest.
Representatives of Hispanic groups and the AARP indicated they, too, could support a hard date if the government will give their constituents adequate notice--at least a year--of the switch and help them pay for the converter boxes they will need to keep their analog-only sets from being suddenly broadcast-unfriendly (they could still be used for cable and satellite and to watch DVD's, the consumer electronics witnesses pointed out).
While both Lavada DeSalles for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Manuel Mirabel of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership said their groups were concerned about the transition's effect on their constituents, who are heavy users of analog TV. "Leave no Television Behind," said Mirabella.
While both pledged their groups were ready to help educate the public about the coming transition, DeSalles on questioning , conceded that AARP had no information on its web site alerting members to the coming transition.
Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), for one, told the witnesses that he expected to produce a bill before the end of the year that would set a hard date for the transition, though he didn't say what the date would be.
Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton wants that date to be Dec. 31, 2006, which the consumer electronics representatives said was doable in terms of affordable set-tops and a consumer education campaign.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) warned that the government was going to have to pay to convert every one of the 73 million analog-only sets that would be affected.
Fiddling with the nation's TV reception has become the new third rail of American politics, he argued, pointing to the cards and letters he received from satellite customers before Congress reauthorized the Satellite Home Viewer Act.
Anything less than subsidizing all 73 million will make that satellite distant-signal dust-up look mild by comparison, he said. "You can well imagine the public wrath that will be visited," adding: "that Congress needs to "keep that reality firmly in mind."