"Transitioning from an Analog Past to a Digital Future"
Remarks by Assistant Secretary Nancy Victory
U.S. Department of Commerce
Annual Meeting of the Advanced Television Systems Committee
March 11, 2003
PUTTING THE "ADVANCED" INTO THE TELEVISION OF TOMORROW
Thank you for the opportunity to join you today at the Annual Meeting of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). As the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, I am keenly aware of the ATSC's historical role in the development of the Grand Alliance system and the pivotal role the ATSC continues to play in the transition to digital television. You are truly putting the "advanced" into the advanced television of tomorrow.
At NTIA, we applaud your valuable work--not only in our country, but in our hemisphere and around the globe. You have been at the forefront of educating government officials about the benefits of the ATSC Standard for DTV services. Your successes in countries such as Canada, South Korea, Taiwan and Argentina demonstrate your effective international advocacy for promoting the adoption of ATSC DTV standards. NTIA has been pleased to have played a role in aiding those efforts.
A UNIQUE BACKGROUND IN TELEVISION'S PAST AND A STRONG INTEREST IN ITS FUTURE
As some of you know, I have a unique background in television's past and a strong interest in its future. I was literally and figuratively a child of the television era. My father started out many years ago in the studio-to-theatre distribution business. After stints with CBS and NBC in the early days of television, he formed his own program syndication company. He eventually partnered with game show legends Mark Goodson and Bill Todman and began building his portfolio of programs that included Concentration and Match Game PM, and then such shows as Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and WKRP in Cincinnati. He still likes to talk about his first meeting with that "skinny Irish kid with bad teeth" who later - after good food and good dentistry - became known as "007" - Pierce Brosnan.
As a young girl, I was probably the only kid on my block whose parents ordered her to watch TV! My dad had me review shows and write down what I liked and what I didn't like. He considered me his own personal Nielsen survey.
As a "young" government official, I continue to be an avid fan of television. Over the years, I have enjoyed television shows like M*A*S*H, Cheers, and The Cosby Show. More recently, 24 and CSI have been at the top of my personal hit parade. For purely information purposes - of course - I have tuned in to The Bachelorette to see whether Charlie or Ryan would win Trista's heart. The leap to DTV will not only enhance my viewing enjoyment, but it will open the door to my husband actually seeing the hockey puck move across the screen when Jagr or Bondra take their slap shots from the point!
My enthusiasm for the digital transition extends beyond my excitement for the new programming options that will eventually be available to home viewers. As you all know, the transition from analog to digital television holds great promise, not only for consumers, but also for businesses--the broadcasting and equipment industries. Importantly, completion of the transition will also make a large swath of reclaimed radio spectrum available for other critical radio services, including public safety. As a spectrum manager, I am particularly excited about this extra dividend from DTV.
THE TRANSITION FROM AN ANALOG PAST TO A DIGITAL FUTURE IS IRREVOCABLY UNDERWAY
The days of riding radio "waves" into the nation's living rooms is coming to a close as we move toward the staccato "ones and zeros" of digital communications. Change is irrevocably and irresistibly underway across a gamut of services. We are seeing mobile morph into digital, radio broadcasters moving ahead with the DBAC standard and big-time shifts to accommodate digital through broadband fiber to the home and IP-based packet switching in the Internet highways.
A critical component of this technological paradigm shift is finding common industry ground and consensus on the migration path and the ultimate destination. This requires a carefully crafted combination of persistence, patience and pressure. The bottom line is that success depends upon team work between manufacturers, broadcasters, program producers, consumers, and - of course - the wild card in communications - government decision-makers at home and abroad.
NTIA HAS BEEN WORKING TO FACILITATE DTV AT HOME AND ABROAD
In an address to the nation's "high-tech" leaders, President Bush last year stated his commitment to facilitating the delivery of advanced services to the American people. Similarly, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans has made clear that promoting advanced services and ensuring efficient spectrum management are among the highest priorities for the Department of Commerce. As head of NTIA and as the principal advisor to the President on telecommunications policies, my mission is to ensure that sound policies are designed to achieve these goals.
The NTIA approach has been to avoid duplicating that which others are doing well and to lend assistance in areas where we can be of special help. In such respects, there have been and will continue to be three primary areas of attention for me with respect to the DTV transition. First, I have sought to encourage support for the FCC's efforts to forge an industry solution. In particular, I have sought to encourage industry to join the DTV team. Second, NTIA is working with the FCC and Congress to ensure that the relocation of broadcasters from their analog spectrum homes to their new digital homes goes smoothly and in a timely fashion. Last, but not least, NTIA has been active in seeking support in our hemisphere for adoption of the ATSC standard.
The promise of DTV--ranging from dramatic improvements in sound and picture quality to multicasting to a more efficient use of the radio spectrum--compels our support for its realization. The key to realizing this promise is to accelerate and complete the transition to digital television. And, thus far, team work has been leading to progress down the DTV path.
TEAM WORK IS ESSENTIAL TO ACHIEVING DTV SUCCESS
Making advanced television a reality cannot occur without teamwork. The goal cannot be achieved if any of the players fail to put their pieces of the puzzle onto the table. The goal cannot be achieved if warring tribes prevail over common cause. And finally, the goal cannot be achieved if government does not skillfully modulate its actions to walk the fine line between constructive enablement and stultifying interference.
The good news is the DTV transition has benefited from industry team work and strong government leadership from the FCC and the Congress. Many of you here today represent organizations that have contributed over the last 15 years to make DTV a reality. The Bush Administration is appreciative of these collaborative efforts. In fact, within the past year, the fruits of your labor have resulted in great strides--moving us forward in the transition to DTV.
First, Chairman Powell and the FCC should be commended for challenging the broadcast, cable, and the consumer electronics industries last April to take specific steps to move the DTV transition forward. Chairman Powell's plan challenged major broadcast and cable networks to create more compelling digital content. He urged equipment manufacturers to produce more television sets with digital tuners. He called upon broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite providers to make digital content more accessible to consumers.
Equally impressive was the response from the industry. In answer to the Chairman's challenge, industry has made real commitments to increase the amount of digital programming available to the viewing public. Programmers are producing more high definition programming. All television viewers, including cable subscribers, DBS subscribers, and broadcast television viewers, increasingly have access to more digital programming.
Another significant step forward has been the FCC's Order last August that mandated DTV tuners in all new television sets by July 2007. While not an easy decision to reach, this order will ensure that the national television audience, owning more than 260 million analog television sets and many fewer digital sets, will have the new receivers or equipment necessary to view the growing amount of digital programming available in the marketplace.
The keen interest shown by Congress has been immeasurably helpful in moving the transition forward. The series of roundtables, convened by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, provided a process for identifying issues and building consensus. The Staff Draft on the Transition to DTV, released by Chairman Tauzin in September, has been viewed as a template that shows how the current uncertainty underlying the DTV transition can be reduced by making specific policy cuts. The Staff Draft directs the FCC to decide particular issues and clarifies FCC authority to act in those areas. Thus, as a discussion document, it has prompted lively debate over how certain contentious issues should be resolved.
Another important milestone has been the agreement reached in December by the cable and consumer electronics industries on a cable compatibility standard for integrated, one-way digital cable television receivers. This standard will allow cable subscribers directly to connect integrated DTV receivers to their cable systems to receive basic and premium (one-way) digital programming. The FCC has solicited comment on this "plug and play" agreement. Without prejudging the outcome of this proceeding or the merits of the specific rules proposed, I think the parties are to be commended for working through some very tough issues.
The negotiations involved the difficult balancing of consumer, broadcaster, programming, cable, and equipment manufacturing interests to reach the current consensus position. Also, to their credit, I understand that the cable and consumer electronics industries are extending these negotiations to cover standards that will also eliminate the need for external navigation devices for cable subscribers to receive advanced services. I strongly believe that industry negotiations are a useful way to help move the DTV transition forward and I applaud the continuing efforts here and elsewhere.
The FCC has initiated several other DTV proceedings designed to move the transition forward. The Commission is currently seeking comment on what adjustments to rules and policies are needed to accomplish the DTV transition and to best effect the recovery of radio spectrum at the end of the process. The FCC also has opened a rulemaking on whether it can and should mandate the use of a copy protection scheme for digital broadcast television. And the Commission has shown a strong commitment to the rapid build out of a nationwide DTV system. In a pending rulemaking, the FCC has proposed sanctions and a clear remedial process for broadcasters who fail to meet their DTV construction deadlines without obtaining extensions from the Commission. While more than 760 broadcasters have already commenced DTV operations, the FCC correctly believes that the entire broadcast industry and other key players must continue to make sustained commitments to accelerate the DTV transition.
Finally, we need to make sure that our team includes the American consumer. All of our work is for naught if there is lack of consumer awareness. As Chairman Powell has said, "Every year, 25 million analog sets are sold in this country, their purchasers blissfully unaware that their new sets come with a government-mandated expiration date." I believe that both broadcasters and equipment manufacturers need to do more to educate consumers about the equipment necessary to receive DTV and HDTV programming. These industries must build on current efforts to increase consumer awareness of DTV and HDTV developments in the marketplace.
NTIA'S CONTINUING ROLE IN FACILITATING THE ADVENT OF ADVANCED TELEVISION
Listening and Learning. NTIA intends to be an active participant in helping address the challenges ahead. As such, I will continue to be soliciting consumer and industry views on how we can ensure a smooth path to progress. While much work has already been done, the concerns, suggestions and ideas of all affected industries and the public they serve are important to us at NTIA in discharging our responsibilities.
Accelerating the Transition. Moving television broadcasting from existing analog spectrum allocations to new digital allocations is a complex financial, technical, and legal undertaking. This transition should be completed as soon as possible, but not under conditions that leave substantial doubt about how and when the reclaimed radio spectrum will be converted to new uses. Last April, consistent with the urging of Secretary Evans, the FCC postponed auctions in the Upper and Lower 700 MHz bands. The purpose of this postponement was to provide the time necessary to resolve existing uncertainties about clearing the spectrum and deploying new services. This is important to ensure that the transition proceeds in an orderly manner. At this time, the Upper 700 MHz band auction has not yet been rescheduled, while unsold licenses from last year's Lower 700 MHz band auction will be re-auctioned in May.
Working Toward a Common Global DTV Standard. And obviously, the transition to DTV has ramifications beyond our borders. For our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, as well as other countries around the globe, DTV has the potential to improve service quality, stimulate service innovation, and offer new interactive capabilities not currently available from analog service. At NTIA, we support a hemispheric-wide digital transmission standard as it would create a market of more than 830 million people for DTV sets and content production. The economies of scale inherent in such a large market would mean that consumers and broadcasters would pay much lower prices for sets and broadcast equipment. We believe that the ATSC standard offers compelling technical, economic, and social advantages for the entire region. We look forward to working with our Western Hemisphere neighbors in developing a common approach to this important issue.
THE VISION BECOMING A REALITY
The evolution of television broadcasting in the United States from an analog to a digital service is in all of our interests. The public windfall from a completed DTV transition will result in innovative broadcasting services as well as additional new, advanced mobile services that utilize the reclaimed analog spectrum. This result is truly a win-win outcome for the American public.
That's why I will be working with my colleagues at the FCC and in Congress to ensure that the DTV transition is timely, efficient, and effective. Through the transition and beyond, virtually all of the organizations represented here today must participate in order to achieve this outcome. The Administration applauds your efforts to date and we look forward to working with you to ensure the successful transition to digital television. Thank you.