The Federal Communications Commission will this week start to address for the first time two key issues relating to digital television – whether manufacturers of digital TV sets should be mandated to include digital tuners; and copyright protection criteria for digital broadcasts.

The FCC’s lethargy over the nation’s shift from the current analog TV signals to digital has been under criticism for some time and only the combined efforts of its own chairman Michael Powell with other federal officials and members of Congress has pushed the body into action.

Digital TV sets already abound in the nation’s homes but few include a tuner capable of receiving digital broadcasts. This anomaly reflects the divide between broadcasters and manufacturers.

The former have lobbied vigorously for the inclusion of tuners to ensure a wider audience for dTV transmissions; the latter oppose the move with equal vigor, arguing that it will drive up the price of sets.

On the issue of copyright, the FCC expects to devote a number of months to the problem of safeguarding digital broadcasts from internet bootlegging. This, fear the studios and other TV content providers, could result in widespread distribution of high quality pirated programs. Consumer rights groups are equally concerned that the program-makers’ demands could threaten the public’s present right to make copies for use at home.

The FCC originally set a May deadline for all broadcasters to start transmitting in digital format – but the date has come and gone with no such result. And few in the industry believe the national switch to digital will be achieved by the federal target date of 2006.

Before the US goes all-digital two major hurdles must be cleared: consumer reluctance to pay more for digital reception; and similar footdragging by cable networks which are far from eager to devote costly bandwidth on their systems to free-of-charge dTV.

Data sourced from: (USA); additional content by WARC staff