Powell Calls for Clear Timeline in Digital TV Transition

Speaking at CES, the FCC chairman says consumers and the industry need to know when TV broadcasts will cut the analog cord.

LAS VEGAS—In televisions transition to digital, theres a missing link: a firm date for when broadcasters must completely switch from analog to digital broadcasts.

That link needs to be found this year in order to end uncertainty in the TV market about when digital will fully arrive, said Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, during a talk Thursday at the International Consumer Electronics Show here.

Current federal law requires a transition to digital broadcasts by the end of 2006, but only if 85 percent of homes can view digital programming. The laws caveats make the date uncertain because there are no metrics for determining what counts as a home with digital access, Powell said.

"This problem has been avoided for years because 2006 looked far away, and I think we have to tackle this problem no matter what and no matter who does it," Powell said.

The lack of a definite transition date leaves consumers particularly confused, Powell said. Retail salespeople often tell consumers that the digital switchover is far off, leading some consumers to buy analog sets over digital ones.

Still, the transition is well under way for the consumer electronics makers. Consumers are buying high-definition TVs at a higher rate than Powell expected.

"People are selling their second mortgage to buy high-definition televisions," he joked. "I think the future is bright."

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