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Remarks of
Commissioner Susan Ness
Federal Communications Commission
MSTV Annual Update
Washington, D.C.

(As prepared for delivery)

I'm glad to join you for MSTV's twelfth annual update -- a dozen years that MSTV has been turning the spotlight on the technology that promises to transform television.

To put it in perspective -- it took at least 12 years for the United States to be born. It took nine years to put a man on the moon (with huge commitments of people and money). It took some 20 years for computing to reach a point that a "personal computer" could become a reality.

I'd like to make four brief points:

1. We've come a long way.

The digital conversion is going on in all media. Dramatic steps are underway in all related industries: broadcasters, receiver manufacturers, satellite and cable operators and programmers -- and yes -- computer companies.

It is extremely important that broadcasters are now assuming their place at the leading edge of the transition -- they are not left behind, forever locked into an analog world while all other delivery systems make the shift or initiate service using digital technology.

Let's go to the numbers:

I applaud these pioneers. It took guts, hard work, and money to cross the digital finish line this year. And I am pleased to say we are on track with our broadcast roll out schedule.

2. There will be bumps along the way.

We are entering a new era. We have a multitude of industries pulling together to make this work. Of course not everything will flow smoothly. But the technical challenges ahead are not nearly as daunting as the advent of digital television itself.

Cable channels -- like HBO and Discovery -- plan to explore the full potential of high definition television for their viewers.

And I saw a dynamite presentation last evening by PBS -- partnering with Intel -- to create enhanced digital television.

Give it time. It will all come together.

3. The Government's formal role is winding down as the new TV antennas are being turned on.

We have set the stage -- we have given broadcasters the spectrum they need to transition to digital; set the rules of the game; and allotted each broadcaster its channel.

There still are a few important decisions the FCC must make and we must resolve them promptly.

We have just received a huge stack of comments which I have not reviewed in its entirety. A glance at them bears out the expectation that the cable industry will vigorously oppose just about any carriage requirement of any type. Broadcasters, with some notable exceptions, have just as vigorously argued that all signals should be subject to mandatory carriage as soon as they go on the air.

I am pleased that MSTV and other broadcasters, such as Cosmos and Morgan Murphy Stations, have not taken an extreme view. Your comments will be most constructive as the Commission grapples with this difficult issue.

I am hopeful that if all the industries work together for the benefit of the American consumer, we will find that capacity on most cable systems will expand at the same time that broadcasters are turning on their digital channels. While that won't solve everyone's problem, it goes a long way toward speeding digital conversion.

As I have said before, it is in cable's interest to expedite the conversion. Because once we complete conversion and the analog channels are returned, cable capacity again will be freed up.

The Commission should address this issue as soon as we can review the comments and reach an informed decision.

And we must be diligent to ensure that this transition to digital works for the American consumer.

4. You need to keep your viewers foremost in mind.

That means you must use every opportunity to explain what's happening -- to local government officials, local community organizations -- using your own air and other media.

Broadcasters are experts at marketing and promotion. You are in a perfect position to build anticipation and excitement among viewers and community leaders as they learn about the arrival of DTV.

Here's an idea: why not set up a "Digital TV Working Group" in your local community made up of all the TV stations, your consumer electronic stores, local cable operators, and local governments? This kind of group could help smooth the rollout where it really counts -- in your local communities.

And don't ignore programming and interactive opportunities that take full advantage of the extraordinary potential of digital television. Be creative. Whether you are turning on digital this week or next year or three years from now -- you can be a pioneer. The world is open to you. A new day is dawning. Take the challenge.


To recap my four points:

Digital television is here. We have come a very long way in the last twelve years. There will be bumps in the road as we enter this stage in the conversion from analog to digital. Government must remain diligent to ensure that the conversion works for the benefit of consumers, but our formal work is winding down. It is now in your hands. And to succeed you must keep your viewers foremost in your mind.

Free, over-the-air broadcasting plays a fundamental role in our society. It is the window on the world for all Americans. It is crucial that broadcasters have the opportunity to participate in the universal transition to digital. That is why I have been working with broadcasters for over four years to provide assistance where I can, to learn more about your real-world challenges, and tell you, once again, this transition will be worth the effort. It will happen. Be there!

Thank you.