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Editorial: FCC should move ahead on DTV

Aug 27, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission is thinking about creating a task force to help make digital TV a reality, and we think that’s a good idea.
For too long now, DTV has been subject to various special interests, each pushing their own agenda, with the result being that DTV is far from a reality.
The issues surrounding DTV have seemed to be never-ending, from the debate over the transmission standard itself to cable pass-through of DTV to TV sets being properly equipped for DTV.
These issues are huge, and the money that has to be spent in the transition amounts to millions and millions. The future, in other words, is an expensive creation.
But over the years, the rewards are likely to be in the billions.
On one hand, the delay in adopting DTV is not a bad thing. We’re reminded of the industry’s transition to color TV.
That battle was basically between RCA/ NBC, which was pushing a color TV system that was compatible with existing black-and-white TV signals, and CBS, which was championing a system that wasn’t compatible with then-prevalent black-and-white standards.
Initially, CBS won the battle, with the FCC approving the CBS system as the U.S. standard. But RCA appealed, right up to the United States Supreme Court. RCA lost at each step of the appeals process, if memory serves us correctly, including at the Supreme Court.
But the delay was enough to kill the CBS color system. Manufacturers were not thrilled to make TV sets to the CBS color standard while RCA was still appealing the standard. Thus very few TV color sets meeting CBS standard were ever made.
By the time RCA was done with its appeal, the company had perfected its color system. RCA got the FCC to reverse itself, and the RCA system then became the color standard.
No doubt having a color system compatible with black-and-white signals was a good thing, for both the industry and consumers. It allowed a measured introduction of color technology at a pace applauded by both consumers and the industry.
But there comes a time when hard decisions need to be made about technological advances. Such a moment is upon us. For a long time now the FCC hasn’t exhibited any serious interest to push along a DTV agenda. Former Commissioner Susan Ness appeared to have a strong interest in DTV, but former Chairman Bill Kennard did not.
We hope the task force gets formed and Chairman Michael Powell personally champions the DTV cause. And in doing so he needs to balance industry and consumer interests to come up with a winning formula to implement DTV.