Charting the Digital Broadcasting Future, 1998

Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters
Final Report, Dec. 18, 1998
a.k.a. PIAC or the Gore Commission

See PDF of full report; sections of the report posted in HTML by the Benton Foundation; and the list of commission members. Executive Summary
As this Nation’’s 1,600 television stations begin to convert to a digital television format, it is appropriate to reexamine the long-standing social compact between broadcasters and the American people. The quality of governance, intelligence of political discourse, diversity of free expression, vitality of local communities, opportunities for education and instruction, and many other dimensions of American life will be affected profoundly by how digital television evolves. This Advisory Committee’s recommendations on how public interest obligations of television broadcasters ought to change in the new digital television era represent a new stage in the ongoing evolution of the public interest standard: a needed reassessment in light of dramatic changes in communications technology, market structures, and the needs of a democratic society.

Analog television debris: Where oh where to put it?

CPB is planning a station survey to determine the extent of a problem that has crept up practically unnoticed during planning for the DTV transition: what pubcasters can or should do with old analog equipment. Some stations are simply letting the equipment sit while they ponder its fate. But that can take a huge amount of space: Many analog TV transmitters are the size of three refrigerators in a row, accompanied by a high-voltage power supply nearly as big. The obsolete analog antennas, still perched in the sky, add weight to aging towers that threaten to topple on equipment below. Selling all this outdated stuff poses its own complications, including federal liens, university property-disposal rules and the glut of retired hardware that has few buyers.

Wave of brief analog shutdowns are clear warnings to over-air viewers

As if they march under the banner, “Leave no grandma behind,” commercial and public stations, city by city, have begun a series of “soft shutdowns” of analog transmitters that’s likely to grow in frequency and duration until all viewers are converted and accounted for.

Uneasy dilemma for public TV: stick with DTV standard?

Which would be worse? Raising ungrounded fears about DTV technology that spook the public and delay the transition for years? Or ignoring those worries and finding out later that the system is a dog? Public TV’s engineers are divided on question of reopening the three-year-old U.S. standard for DTV transmission, a course of action championed by Sinclair Broadcast Group and now festering on the body technological. “I’m conflicted — it’s a thing that an engineer doesn’t like to be,” admits Bruce Jacobs, chief technology officer at KTCA in Twin Cities.