Transition to Digital must Protect interests of American Public

Source: Hill, The

[Commentary] The U.S. broadcast television industry is on the brink of a historic shift from the old analog world to the brave new world of digital technology. The new technology could potentially open the door to a richer and broader variety of telecommunications services for all Americans. When the transition to digital television (DTV) is completed, each station will be able to split its signal into a maximum of six separate broadcast channels. In 1996, the federal government granted broadcasters a free license to use the enormously increased digital broadcast capacity in exchange for their obligation to serve “the public interest, convenience and necessity.” Unfortunately, broadcasters have failed to uphold their end of the bargain. A report, “Broken Promises: How Digital Broadcasters are Failing to Serve the Public Interest,” has documented broadcasters’ failure to air an acceptable amount of public-interest and local programming. It examined more than 20,000 hours of programming offered by 91 digital commercial broadcasters in 16 media markets. The report found a meager 0.3 percent of digital programming focused on local public affairs and little evidence that broadcasters are using their multicasting capabilities to provide enhanced local public-interest programming. Requiring television stations to live up to their public-interest obligations is a small financial cost for the industry to bear. It will ensure that local matters receive adequate coverage via the public airwaves and that a diversity of opinions is given a voice in the marketplace of ideas. The result will only strengthen the free exchange of information that is essential to our democracy.



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