A Q&A with Pillsbury’s Lauren Lynch Flick
Consumer advocates want to push back the February 17, 2009 jump to digital broadcasting, but an extension may do more to simply postpone feared disruptions than prevent them.
Next to the Internet, perhaps no consumer technology platform is evolving faster than television. For more than a generation, channel surfing was a relatively simple decision from a service standpoint. Analog broadcasts dated back to the 1940’s, while competing cable and satellite-based subscription services gained popularity in the ensuing decades. Today, these traditional choices are being revamped by the growing popularity of more sophisticated high definition (HD) TV equipment and myriad set-top receiver options from service providers and consumer electronics manufacturers that provide greater access and control over content. Yet, just as the nation is poised to embrace a major step forward in the evolution of over-the-air television, concerns for the nation’s readiness to do so threaten the government’s long-standing proposal to terminate analog broadcasts in favor of digital television (DTV) on February 17, 2009.
Already implemented in regional test markets, this massive digital “switchover” has revealed several important lessons and issues unanticipated by consumers. In this Q&A, Pillsbury Communications law partner Lauren Lynch Flick answers persistent questions consumers have regarding how they can stay informed and tuned-in.
Q: Let’s start with the big switch to digital TV signals, who does this affect and why is it happening?
A: In short, many of the frequencies, or channels, that broadcasters use today for the free, “over the air” television stations that we are all familiar with and used to being able to receive, are being reallocated for public safety, such as assuring that police and fire crews can communicate with one another on the same frequencies in an emergency, as well as for new wireless services by phone and data carriers. In the past year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned these old analog TV frequencies off to the highest bidding companies in anticipation of television broadcasters vacating the channels by the Congressionally-mandated deadline of February 17, 2009.
The switch to newer, digital TV (DTV) signals allows broadcasters to provide viewers with additional programming streams, as well as greatly increased picture and sound quality. Nevertheless, the challenge of making sure that all households, especially those with older sets, can receive the new signals, is daunting.