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Former FCC Chair Discusses the Digital Television Age


Digital Revolution

The former FCC chairman speaks to Fordham students about a revolutionary change in television broadcasting.

A revolution in television is underway, and if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has its way, digital will replace analog as the standard broadcasting technology by 2007.

“This is one of the greatest technological changes in our country’s history,” said former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley during a Nov. 15 lecture in Flom Auditorium on the Rose Hill campus. However, Wiley, who served as FCC chairman from 1987 to 1995, said that the transition will only be successful if the public cooperates.

Digital television delivers a higher quality picture and sound than analog, but the FCC’s motivation for facilitating the transition is related to increasing available bandwidth. Digital offers more channels than analog on the same bandwidth, meaning the switch would free up the airwaves for other uses, such as advanced wireless and public-safety communication systems. As a result, the FCC is requiring manufacturers to produce television sets that include digital tuners and that are compatible with existing cable systems.

Critics of the transition argue that the cost of digital television sets will lock some Americans out of the digital revolution. The average price for a 27-inch analog television is about $175, while comparable digital sets start at about $600. The cost of digital sets has fallen 75 percent since being introduced in 1998, according to Wiley, who expects the price to continue its slide as digital sets become the standard.

The FCC’s target for completing the switch to digital is Dec. 31, 2006, but success hinges on consumers purchasing digital sets. Under federal law, stations will continue to broadcast an analog signal until 85 percent of homes in a television viewing area can receive digital. Earlier this year, the FCC launched a public-service campaign called, “D-TV — Get It,” and a website,, to educate the public on the transition to digital and available technology.

— John Blakeley

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