If Dogs Run Free, Why Can't DTV?

It's a DTV jungle out there, with manufacturers, broadcasters, consumers, and other market forces fighting for their ecological niches. Always an aggressive participant in the struggle, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), in comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission last week, stated that "ensuring that today's viewers continue to enjoy free, over-the-air service should be the primary focus of the digital television (DTV) transition." While new services should be "permitted and encouraged," argued the CEA, they should be consistent with broadcasters' "continued delivery of free over-the-air programming in the digital era."

In its comments, the CEA also reiterated its opposition to modifying the existing DTV transmission standard, arguing that doing so will create uncertainty and delay in the marketplace and ultimately harm consumers. The CEA's Gary Shapiro explained that "broadcasters should have the freedom to invest in and provide new services to viewers, such as datacasting and interactivity. Indeed, our research shows consumer interest in these functions. But these potential new services must not prevent or inhibit consumers from receiving free, over-the-air programming in the digital age, nor should these services be used as a foil to push non-compatible changes to the DTV transmission standard or otherwise delay the transition."

In its statement, the CEA also expressed its confidence that current testing of the FCC-approved 8-VSB modulation standard—"if fair and objective"—will reveal yet again that the standard is suitably robust for broadcast television, and noted that there is no consensus or valid reason to consider modifying or replacing the current standard. According to the CEA, "our members also have indicated to us that the standard is capable of accommodating changes in order to meet new needs as they are identified, and doing so in a fully backward-compatible manner."

In the same statement, the CEA said, "clearly the use of the extensible features of the DTV standard to meet new needs is far superior to adopting a new non-compatible standard. Introduction of a non-compatible standard would harm consumers by dividing the broadcast marketplace, impairing the utility of existing receivers, and increasing the cost of all new receivers."

The CEA also rejected calls for the FCC to impose DTV receiver standards or require DTV reception capability in all television receivers. "A thorough review of the existing statutes clearly indicates that the FCC lacks the authority to mandate receiver performance standards," said Shapiro. "The FCC itself has consistently echoed this belief as well. The Commission has wisely recognized that manufacturers will be driven by market forces to make available to consumers digital receivers that receive both NTSC and digital signals, correctly refusing to 'preclude equipment manufacturers from designing digital receivers that do not receive NTSC signals.' We urge the Commission to retain this position."