CEA Backs Ferree DTV Plan

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) will back a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan that could speed up the transition to a nationwide all-digital TV systems, according to a June 1 report from Broadcast & Cable.

Developed by FCC media bureau chief Ken Ferree, the plan would count all cable subscribers as served by local broadcasters' digital signals, even if such subscribers don't have digital receivers and local stations' digital broadcasts have been downconverted to analog.

The tactic reinterprets provisions in the original 1997 DTV rollout decree that define a complete changeover to digital as the moment when 85% of viewers can receive digital signals. If adopted, the plan could make it easier for the FCC to reacquire analog licenses from broadcasters, could make it easier for manufacturers and retailers to sell DTV gear, and would impose new demands on cable providers to get with the DTV program. The CEA and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) long complained that foot-dragging by the cable industry was the principal impediment to a quick changeover to digital.

Many in Congress are pushing for a faster DTV transition in the belief that the government's priority should be obtaining the analog licenses so that the broadcast spectrum can be auctioned off for wireless communications services. CEA president Gary Shapiro said his association backs the plan in the hope that it will force cablers to stop downconverting and begin transmitting broadcast high-definition pictures and other digital features including Spanish language programming and V-chip code.

Ferree has stated that the complete transition to digital TV may not be complete until 2009. The small percentage of US viewers who don't have cable or satellite reception and who don't purchase digital TVs may need subsidized converter boxes to continue viewing once the process is finished.