Text Version

April 3, 1997

Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

Advanced Television Systems and Their Impact upon the Existing Television Broadcast Service, MM Docket No. 87-268.

Our decisions today ensure a bright future for free, over-the-air broadcasting, and thereby secure its continuing vitality as the principal source of news, information, and entertainment in homes throughout our nation.

The two orders adopted today, along with the standards decision issued last December, conclude a lengthy deliberative process. The momentous result of an extraordinary industry-government partnership, our new rules will facilitate an expeditious and successful launch of digital broadcasting, delivering abundant benefits to the American consumer. The landscape of television will be forever changed.

Throughout our deliberations, my primary concern has been to protect the interests of the American consumer. Our decisions today accomplish that goal.

Highlights of our actions include an aggressive but achievable deployment schedule that will accelerate the availability of digital broadcast signals in major markets, stimulate demand for new television and computer products, and permit the recovery and auctioning of spectrum currently allocated to the broadcast service. Service rules will enable broadcasters to experiment with high-definition television, multi-channel standard definition programming, and ancillary services such as paging and data delivery. Broadcasters need not delay while their public interest compact is renewed and clarified, but there is clear notice that we will maintain the fundamental precept that broadcasters have a special obligation to operate in the public interest.

I am particularly pleased that fully half of all Americans should be able to receive three or more digital broadcast signals within 30 months. I also welcome the opportunity to provide new spectrum for public safety uses -- and later to reclaim other channels that will permit the delivery of new services to the public, and auction revenues to the Treasury.

Service rules

Deployment schedule: Our decision on the service rules gives broadcasters a green light to move rapidly to convert from analog to digital. Each broadcaster shortly will receive authorization for the transition channel identified for its use.

The transition from analog to digital broadcasting presents difficult practical challenges. One difficulty is the "chicken-and-egg" relationship between transmission and reception. Broadcasters are not eager to invest significant sums to broadcast a signal that no one can receive. Manufacturers are reluctant to build -- and consumers will be reluctant to buy -- receivers for which there is no programming. The only solution is for both industries to move forward in tandem, sharing the commitment and the risk.

I believe we have addressed this issue in a way that maximizes the opportunities for a rapid and successful launch of digital broadcasting. A substantial number of the largest broadcasters in the top ten markets voluntarily have committed to commencing digital broadcasting within 18 months. This will be in time for the 1998 Christmas holiday shopping season, when digital receivers should be widely available to consumers.

A rapid and progressive transition to digital will be further promoted by the mandatory conversion schedule we are adopting. The top four network-owned and operated stations

and network affiliates in the largest 10 markets must convert within two years; in the top 30 markets, the conversion must occur within 30 months. All commercial stations will be required to be on air in five years, and public stations in six.

Of course, our schedule recognizes the possibility of extenuating circumstances that are outside the broadcasters' control, such as inability to secure tower locations for new antennas. But the commitment to move rapidly must -- and will -- be there.

In short, the deployment schedule is rapid, rigorous, and yet reasonable. It is practical and achievable. It enjoys the strong support of the broadcasters and receiver manufacturers upon whom we depend to roll out service to the public.

Further, this schedule is consistent with our target of 2006 as the date on which the analog signals will cease. This is essential so the "loan" of the channels can be ended and the analog channels recaptured and readied for auction. Then, the American public will receive the benefits of both the auction revenues and of the new services that the auction winners will offer.

Service flexibility: Consistent with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we have provided broadcasters with the flexibility to experiment with the types of services to be offered under the digital transmission standard adopted last December. Based on my conversations with broadcasters and others, I fully expect to see a wide variety of new services, including data and Internet access, computer software transmission, electronic newspapers and magazines, and a host of other services. Our computer-friendly approach leaves it to the marketplace to determine the kinds of devices American consumers will choose to receive the digital signals that will be broadcast.

Yet, even as we allow for new ancillary services, we must not forget the reason for which broadcasters were accorded the spectrum to effectuate a full conversion to digital: to preserve and enhance free-over-the-air broadcast service. Broadcasting plays a unique role in American society, and the American public rightfully expects that broadcasters will use these channels to continue to deliver news, information, sports, and educational programming for children, among other things. Our rules will ensure that this service continues.

Simulcasting: During the transition period, broadcasters will have temporary use of an additional six megahertz channel to deliver digital programming and other new services to the public. I emphasize the word "temporary." We will reclaim the temporary channel when consumers have converted to digital receivers.

My desire is to expedite market penetration of the new digital sets, yet ensure that we obtain return of the temporary channels. Consequently, we have agreed not to impose a simulcasting requirement during the early years of the transition, when new programming and features need to be maximized to encourage sales. Once substantial market penetration is achieved, continuing separate programming on the analog and digital channels likely would impede the orderly return of the spectrum. Hence, we adopted simulcast requirements in the later years of the transition to ensure that consumers will not be inconvenienced in the period before the analog signal is turned off.

HDTV: High-definition television -- with crisp pictures, true color, multi-channel compact-disc-quality sound, and a wide aspect ratio -- has the potential to provide a theatrical viewing experience. We permit, but do not require, the use of digital channels to offer HDTV.

The FCC standard is on its way to global acceptance as state of the art. Consumers increasingly desire "home theater" facilities. While the price of wall-sized flat screens is prohibitively high today for most consumers, as technology advances the cost of such equipment is bound to decline. High definition pictures, especially for movies and sporting events, may be a major consumer draw.

While we do not require broadcasting in high definition, we carefully avoid any policies that would inhibit its emergence. The consumer marketplace -- not the government -- should determine the success or failure of HDTV.

Public Interest: In a future Notice, we will proceed to explore and better define the public interest obligations of broadcasters in the digital world. As we formulate that policy, I personally look forward to insights from the advisory committee that is being established by President Clinton and Vice President Gore, as well as from Congress and the public.

Allotment Schedule

The allotment schedule we adopt today is a masterpiece of engineering. Many said it couldn't be done, but this plan accommodates all existing broadcast stations during the transition in a manner that avoids loss of free, over-the-air broadcast service to consumers.

Signal Disparity: The Table provides existing high-powered stations with digital coverage areas that essentially replicate their analog service area contours. We also set a floor power level for existing UHF stations, and a ceiling of one megawatt for existing VHF stations moving to UHF, to mitigate the power differential between these types of stations within their primary service areas. This is necessary to ensure that the signals from all size stations will sufficiently penetrate buildings within their primary markets.

Channels 60-69: We have limited the number of analog and digital stations that will broadcast on channels 60-69. Subject to the existing broadcast operations, this will facilitate expeditious reallocation of this spectrum for other purposes.

In particular, I favor a plan to allocate four of the channels -- 24 MHz -- for public safety. The need for additional spectrum, and the suitability of this specific spectrum for public safety uses, was demonstrated in the report of the FCC and NTIA's Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee. We will address this shortly in a new proceeding.

I am concerned that public safety entities such as firefighters, police, and rescue workers not be hampered by having insufficient spectrum. Public safety entities often cannot communicate with each other in an emergency, such as a bombing or plane crash. It is inexcusable that today these life-saving agencies cannot talk to each other without multiple radios operating across scattered spectrum bands. In the middle of a disaster rescue operation, our public safety teams should not have to worry about having the right radio equipment in hand. We have set in motion a process that will free up enough contiguous, versatile spectrum to facilitate those vital communications.

I look forward to expeditiously allocating the remaining space between channels 60 and 69 to new uses. I consider these 60 megahertz a "downpayment" on our commitment to the American public for the return, repacking, and auctioning of the remaining spectrum that will be reclaimed. After conversion from analog to digital is completed, the total spectrum reserved for broadcasting will shrink by over one-third, and that which is recovered will be put to other valuable uses.

Low Power Television: We have done everything possible at this time to enable the maximum number of low power stations to continue operating and providing desired services to consumers.

We also are looking for any additional methods which we could employ to enable even more

low power stations to continue broadcasting, both during the transition and afterward. I expect that the adoption and release of our specific allotment table will enable engineers to go to work -- as I know the Community Broadcasters Association has suggested -- and find channels where existing low power stations can be accommodated.

Low power offers a valuable service -- providing communities with news and information tailored to their needs. I want to enable as many LPTV stations as possible to prosper in the digital age. Perhaps one method -- where everything else fails -- would be to assemble stations on a multiplexed digital six-megahertz channel. Another "last-ditch" method might be for contractual arrangements with full-powered stations to carry the LPTV signal on one programming stream.

Such results clearly would promote the public interest in making more and diverse programming available to consumers.

The items adopted today are not the final word on LPTV. We remain committed to doing our best to preserve these additional voices in the broadcast marketplace.


I am proud of the way in which my colleagues, our staff, and interested parties have worked together on these orders. I truly believe that the net result will serve the interests of American consumers.

The conclusion of these phases of the governmental process sets the stage for an intense period of rapid progress in the marketplace. Other issues will require our attention, but with these decisions broadcasters and receiver manufacturers now have a clear path to the digital future. I urge them to proceed with the same vigor and commitment they have so ably demonstrated in recent weeks.