Conference paper

Binary benefits: Better broadcasting & the digital dividend in the USA

Publisher
Digital television Communications Broadcasting
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apo-nid69466.pdf 228.42 KB
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Today, Australia is five years from digital switchover, and the United States is fewer than five months away. In Australia, decisions regarding the magnitude and disposition of the so-called 'digital dividend' have yet to be finalized but are under intense discussion and debate. It is therefore timely to examine how the United States has found its way to the brink of switchover, how it is educating the public about the transition, how it is allocating its digital dividend, and how the transition is affecting the quality and quantity of free-to-air (FTA) television. What were the results of the US spectrum auctions? What remains to be done? What combination of HDTV, multicasting, and other services will be available to the US free-to-air viewer? And, most importantly but also most tentatively, taking due account of differences as well as similarities between the US and Australia, what productive use can Australian policy analysts make of the US experience? I shall begin with a dispatch from the front lines of the US DTV transition, Wilmington, North Carolina, where on September. 8, 2008, all commercial television stations turned off their analogue signals for good. Then I shall provide a very brief background description of the US DTV regime. I will organize the bulk of my remarks around a series of propositions about the US transition. First, a large share of US television households will be able to maintain the status quo with regard to television reception without taking any action. Second, for those who need to take action to maintain the status quo, the out-of-pocket costs are low. Third, strong private and public demand for new services means that the digital dividend of reallocated 700 MHz spectrum is extremely valuable. Fourth, the transition is bringing significant improvements in US television service. Under this heading, I shall touch on the distribution of service improvements between HDTV and multicasting, the role of public service broadcasters in multicasting, and the impact of the transition on competition between free-to-air and pay television. Before concluding, I will attempt to draw some comparisons between the US and Australian experiences, with a few words on the British example, from which I think there is also much to learn

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