Whose Transition is This? For the next year-plus we’re going to hear a lot about the “DTV Transition.” It’s going to get as over-analyzed for those of us in the industry as the “Presidential election campaign” already is, more than a year before the election. One of the most important things we can do, right now, is to make sure everyone is clear on whose “transition” we are talking about, and whose responsibility it really is. There are already signs that somehow the cable industry (and to some degree the satellite folks as well) are being targeted as the ones primarily responsible for assuring the success of this “transition.” But it’s not our transition! The broadcasters started all this by demanding that the government not give away “their” extra spectrum to anyone else. They said they needed it for future “high definition” broadcasting. They changed course later, saying maybe not HD, but “Advanced” television (read multicasting). The government obliged. It assigned a second FREE chunk of the spectrum to broadcasters, and then said they were required to switch from “analog” to “digital” transmission. That’s the part the broadcasters had not anticipated. They thought they could keep both channels. The government, however, had other ideas. That “retrieved” spectrum would be auctioned and lots of money. Billions would flow to the federal treasury. After 9/11, there was also mention of using some new spectrum for emergency services, but the primary focus has always been how much money the auction would bring. Congress already budgeted it! So the “transition” by broadcasters from analog to digital transmission of their over-the-air signals really has nothing to do with cable or satellite; it is a transition the broadcasters asked for and benefit from, and the government required. And it gets financial and new telecommunications benefits as well. Cable and satellite are private businesses that built their own infrastructures to deliver video, among other things, to the home. Part of the “DTV Transition” was sparked by the broadcasters proclaiming loudly that they should be considered the primary “national information infrastructure” because they already have, over the air, penetration into virtually every home in the country. So how is it that now we are hearing the FCC and some legislators saying it is cable that is the “key” to this “transition?” We should be required to do all sorts of things (uncompensated, of course) to make sure it works so they can make more money. How did we get here? It’s easy. Once the government starts regulating something (especially if many of the regulations, like “must carry,” are designed for the benefit of another private group), amnesia tends to take over… they begin to think they own us, that they can do anything they want with our property for the “good” of the (fill in the word, “public,” “national security,” etc.) But the reality is, this all goes back to money, lots of money. And they want us to spend it to make sure the “transition” works so they (government and broadcasters) can benefit. Well, sorry folks, but while the “expert agency” FCC may conveniently forget this, and the NAB always does, we still have a Constitution (check out the Fifth Amendment and recent Supreme Court decisions on eminent domain excesses). We still have Courts. Unfortunately, we may have to go there to make the point that yes, we are totally supportive of the “DTV Transition.” (If allowed, we will always take care of our customers. Delivery, after all, is our business). But the “transition” is theirs, and their responsibility.