CES: FCC chairman on TV cutoff

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One rumor flitting around the Consumer Electronics Show is that the federal government will push back the Feb. 17, 2009 cut-off date for analog TV signals because the public isn’t prepared enough for digital broadcasting. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin tried to broadcast his own message on that issue this morning. During a Q&A session with CEA honcho Gary Shapiro, Martin said, ‘There’s no question that it’s a hard date. I don’t see that moving at all.’

Of course, Martin’s vote isn’t the only one on the issue. Congress can adjust the date, too. And with only about half of U.S. homes having a digital TV today, combined with a troubling lack of awareness about the impending cut-off, some consumer advocates are warning of a huge public backlash next year if analog broadcasts end. But Martin said having a sure date for the cutoff is critical to the government’s efforts to resell a portion of the TV band (the auction is due to start in a few weeks). Knowing the frequencies will be available in a year, Martin said, helps potential bidders plan for the investment. It also helps technology and consumer-electronics manufacturers make plans for taking advantage of the new broadband services that are expected to result from the auction. Nothing would deter companies more from making such plans, Martin said, than moving the cut-off date.

-- Jon Healey