Commentary By Steve Effros NAB’S Poison Pill Strategy I was yelling at the screen Tuesday watching C-SPAN3 coverage of the Senate Commerce Committee hearings on the DTV transition. It was an amazing display of how effective a disinformation campaign can be. The National Association of Broadcasters has spent several weeks promoting a digital transition campaign. The objective: apparently to get Congress to add provisions to a new "hard date" for the transition that would be so objectionable to cable that NAB could get us to join it in its real objective, which is to scuttle hard date legislation. It’s sort of like a poison pill strategy adopted by companies to prevent a takeover. Make it so unattractive to everyone that the takeover never occurs. It was obvious from the way questions were asked at the hearing. Members of the committee were totally confused by NAB’s ad campaign and lobbying on the peripheral subjects of must carry and multicast carriage. The members didn’t understand the underlying issues, or the implications of these requirements. And the testimony by NAB president Eddie Fritts was totally misleading, especially when he kept saying that the demands of the broadcasters would not require any more bandwidth from cable operators than has already been "approved" by the Supreme Court. It’s simply not true. But that’s for another column. First let’s try to deal with some of the confusion. To begin with, as NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow made clear, the cable industry supports a hard date for the giveback of analog spectrum. For the most part, we will be able to accomplish a technical transition so that all our customers will see no difference compared with their current service within the next 18 months. Analog set owners won’t lose any service, and digital set owners can get digital pictures. So virtually any date Congress might pick is fine by us. Indeed, as Senator McCain pointed out, the sooner that transition takes place, the sooner our emergency responders will have the opportunity to use the returned spectrum. The cable industry is ready to accomplish that transition faster than any other. The broadcasters are intentionally confusing things to make it sound as though cable’s reluctance to have government-mandated universal dual must carry or multi-channel must carry has some significance to the effective date of the transition. Not true. Senator Snowe, for instance, said she was concerned about protecting the viability of local broadcasting. She specifically asked about multicasting. But she’s apparently not aware that the broadcasters have yet to show a viable multi-channel business plan, whether carried on cable or not. Indeed, in other forums the NAB has said it may be financially injurious to broadcasters, the opposite of her assumption! Several members also worried about local emergency broadcasts, something done far more efficiently by radio than by TV. But none noted that carriage of one or two stations, which in most cases are already carried, and actually produce local emergency information, resolves that issue, just as is done in the emergency broadcasting system. Rather, the broadcasters demand must carry for all, or Armageddon. Nonsense. The NAB has intentionally mixed up the DTV transition with HDTV, must carry, multicasting, downconverting and digital delivery to analog TV sets. It’s doing that to confuse Congress and poison the atmosphere for a hard-date return of analog spectrum. Congress should not be fooled into adopting the NAB proposals, which are cynically designed to kill the digital transition.

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