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US DTV transition shifting into high gear

The US transition to all-digital television broadcasting is ramping up quickly. For consumers, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has launched its program to hand out coupons for the purchase of set top converter boxes. Some 30 boxes have been certificated under the program, and will be appearing on store shelves soon -- over the next 4-6 weeks. Consumer education programs are also shifting in to high gear as well, beginning February 17, 2008 — one year ahead of the DTV transition date of February 17, 2009. Soon, consumers will see public service announcements about the transition, as well as a host of materials in newspapers and magazines.And while this is all very exciting for consumers, for those of us in the tech industry, the even more important event is the advent of new wireless broadband networks on the spectrum that the broadcasters are vacating next year. Yesterday, the FCC began auctioning that spectrum. After the first two rounds of bidding, bids for all the spectrum totaled $2.8 billion — the auction is expected to bring in at least $10 billion before it closes. We are expecting that two new national wireless broadband networks will be built in this spectrum. Numerous smaller, regional networks will also be built, and at least one bidder is hoping to garner spectrum for mobile television services. With all this activity, it is useful to remind ourselves of why policymakers in Washington are asking the public to make the transition to digital television reception. The reason is that we must make spectrum available to meet the needs of US public safety. The spectrum is needed to ensure that a network will be available to support interoperable communications, and specifically, broadband communications. Availability of interoperable networks to support public safety could have saved lives in 9/11 and in Hurricane Katrina. And, in day-to-day operations, these networks are expected to save lives and make public safety more productive and effective. Our job as consumers and as members of industry is to get ready for the DTV transition.

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