Proposed delay of digital switch stirs telecom provider debate

When television broadcasts switch from analog to digital, untold new opportunities for digital and mobile marketing will be avail­able, because the Federal Communications Commission voted to make the unused TV spectrum, commonly referred to as “white spaces,” available to the public.

However, President-elect Barack Obama has asked Congress to delay the planned switch, currently set for February 17, saying many consumers relying on analog TV sets are not ready for the change.

Telecom giants Verizon and AT&T, who spent a combined $15.5 billion for access to the valuable airwaves when they free up, are on opposing sides of the proposed delay.

AT&T, in a letter to Congress, said it would support a “short delay” of up to 90 days for the switch. “From AT&T’s perspec­tive, a smooth transmission from analog broadcast transmission to digital is in the public interest,” reads a portion of the letter penned by James Cicconi, AT&T’s SVP of external and legislative affairs.

Verizon, however, opposed delaying the switch in another letter to Congress: “Delaying the transition will postpone the availability of spectrum critical for advanced commercial and public safety communica­tions systems,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Open Mobile Video Coali­tion (OMVC), which was formed to create an infrastructure for transmitting broadcast TV signals to portable devices, said a potential delay will not affect its plans.

The coalition earlier this month announced plans for TV stations in 22 US cities that will start broadcasting their sig­nals this year in a format for such mobile devices as cell phones, MP3 players, GPS units and in-car entertainment systems.

Unlike current mobile TV services, the broadcasts would most likely be free, and would provide access to local news, weather and traffic updates, said the coalition.

“Following a very smooth ATSC Mobile DTV standard setting process, broadcast­ers are on track to deliver local and national broadcast television to mobile audiences,” said Brandon Burgess, OMVC President and ION Media Networks Chairman and CEO. ”The collaboration and dedication among TV broadcasters on this project has been gratifying, enabling us to meet our goal of making mobile broadcast DTV a reality in 2009.”

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