When the calendar turns to Feb. 17, 2009, the United States will complete its transition to digital TV and broadcasters will shut off their analog TV spectrum. While 2009 may be a distant thought right now, the industries involved in providing the nation with TV service—including the cable industry—already are preparing for the new era.
We convene the Cable Show ’07 this week in Las Vegas—the first time in 20 years that the show has been held in that city. And the digital TV transition will be a big part of our focus. The last time we took the show to Vegas, in 1987, cable was just beginning to glimpse its digital future. It wouldn’t be until the ’90s that the industry would initiate its own digital transition and begin making the investment of more than $110 billion that has built a state-of-the-art, fiber-optic infrastructure offering the latest in digital technology.
This investment has significantly aided the launch of high-definition television. Cable’s HD service is available to 100 million American homes. And in addition to broadcast networks, there are now 30 cable networks available in HD.
But along with the benefits of the digital future comes responsibility. We have worked to educate cable customers about the ways in which digital technology is improving the services we offer them. We must now help teach consumers about the digital transition in broadcasting, and the actions they’ll need to take if they want their analog TV sets to continue receiving broadcast signals after Feb. 17, 2009.
That’s why we’ve joined with important partners—the National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Electronics Association, government agencies and community groups— to form the DTV Transition Coalition. The coalition’s goal is straightforward: Inform American consumers about the transition so that not one viewer loses broadcast stations due to a lack of information. While the groups involved may have occasional differences over policy issues, we all agree that working together is the best approach for a broad communications effort.
Cable and satellite subscribers with televisions hooked up to a set-top box or otherwise wired for multichannel video won’t lose any of their favorite channels. But it’s important for us to reach out to our customers who might have an additional television set that isn’t attached to cable, in the bedroom, kitchen or den. Through our combined resources, this coalition will create simple messages to alert American consumers and provide specific directions to ensure that their TV sets continue to receive over-the-air signals.
We’re off to a great start. This week in Las Vegas, I’ll have the pleasure of joining FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate, Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Kneuer, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller and NAB VP of Digital Television Transition Jonathan Collegio in a round-table discussion with Nevada seniors to help them understand what to expect at the time of the transition, and what they should be doing about it. We hope this kind of discussion, which is being produced and co-sponsored by Retirement Living TV, will be a model for many other community and educational events, as the nation gears up for the 2009 transition.
Other information tools also are in the pipeline or already available. Our coalition launched a Web site, DTVTransition.org, in February to help consumers navigate the transition. It provides information and links to additional industry resources to answer basic questions. And later in the year, in partnership with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the FCC, the coalition plans other activities to inform consumers about the government’s converter-box coupon program that begins in 2008.
At the end of the day, I’m confident that we can ensure a smooth digital transition. And, as for the cable industry, we view this as a huge opportunity to continue to leverage the benefits of our own digital transition and our leadership in high-definition programming with our customers.
Kyle McSlarrow is president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.