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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Monday, January 22, 2007

High-Def Disconnect
For $1,399 and Endless Addons He Got 12 Channels

Yesterday's Washington Post had an article with the above heading. Here's a link to the whole article that should work for the next few days. I was wondering how long it would take people to ask questions as to whom is really benefitting from the DTV transition.

The broadcast establishment hates the account of early DTV history in Joel Brinkley's Defining Vision. It recalls how the HDTV/DTV effort started as a desperate move by the broadcasters to derail TV/land mobile sharing in the mid 80's. FCC has proposed to let land mobile, including public safety share more TV channels than the present channel 14-20 sharing in 13 major urban areas. The establishment countered with the usual FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) but was losing. The FCC had drafted a report and order (decision) ratifying its proposal and has already issued a "sunshine notice" announcing the date 7 days hence of the meeting where it would be adopted when the establishment unleashed its last desperate FUD blast: The Japanese are coming with HDTV! NAB has a demo on Capitol Hill of the NHK Hi-Vision analog HDTV system prototype and said that if the US didn't adopt it the whole electronics industry would go down the tube! Oddly, the Pentagon even supported this view.

Eventually analog HDTV gave way to DTV which included the advantage that channels could be packed tighter than analog NTSC or HDTV resulting in what is called in Europe the "digital dividend" - the ability to use less spectrum for the same number of TV channels. However, somewhere along the way the requirement to actually broadcast HDTV disappeared from the FCC Rules so SDTV can now be seen on your new expensive TV set.

So who pays the costs and who gets the benefits of this transition? There are windfall profits for the consumer and broadcast equipment makers. Indeed, despite the original fears that HDTV was needed to prevent a Japanese takeover, there are no US receiver makers left anymore! (Oddly, I heard a high official of the French equivalent of the FCC say recently that the European DTV transition date depended on when Japan, Inc. and China could deliver enough TV sets to Europe.) TV broadcasters were saved from the spectre of sharing with land mobile, but since only 14% of US homes use over-the-air reception today one wonders why that was ever so important. TV broadcasters did have one time costs of the transition with equipment and antenna upgrades but one wonders whether these were significant compared to the value of the broadcast stations involved and their nontechnical budgets, e.g. salaries of on-air personalities and advertising sales people.

But the general public gets stuck with the largest cost - replacing their receivers and recorders. Now there is a Congressionally-mandated program administered by NTIA that helps some households with the transition with $40 coupons, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be.

And now the Post is reminding people they may not get much HDTV when this is all over. I have been saying for a long time that the DTV transition will either be the FCC's most brilliant move or its stupidest. I am still not sure. February 2009 is only 25 months away. We will see then!

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