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Lawmakers Push FCC To Focus on DTV and Delay Other Votes

The soon-departing chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is trying to cram several complex and controversial policies through in his remaining weeks. This week, lawmakers and the Bush administration have been telling him to cool it.

Today, two key lawmakers told Kevin J. Martin to focus on the digital television transition next February, the biggest change in broadcast since the advent of color television.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who are set to take over their respective Commerce Committees, sent a letter to Martin today telling him that the FCC should pay closer attention to the digital transition as questions remain about the readiness of Americans for the switch.

"It would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider unrelated items, especially complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing," Rockefeller and Waxman wrote in the letter.

On Feb. 17, American television broadcasting will switch from analog to digital transmission, which will requires those with analog television sets to buy a digital adapter. Viewers with cable television service won't be affected.

A spokesman for Martin responded with the statement: "We just received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman. We are reviewing it and will reach out to the other offices."

On the agenda for the Dec. 18 FCC meeting is a controversial plan to auction radiowaves with the condition that a portion of those airwaves be offered for free to the public and with a filter that blocks pornography. Users can opt out of that condition if they are over 18 years of age.

The proposal has been criticized by the Bush administration, with a letter by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez earlier this week to Bush appointee Martin, a Republican, urging him to hold off on the Dec. 18 vote on the free broadband network plan.

"The administration believes that the AWS-3 spectrum should be auctioned without price or product mandates," stated Gutierrez in the two-page letter. "The FCC should rely on market forces to determine the best use of the spectrum, subject to appropriate government rules to prevent harmful interference."

The auction, being pushed by firm M2Z, a company funded by Kleiner Perkins venture capital, has been criticized by wireless carrier T-Mobile, which has argued it would cause interference with the adjacent piece of spectrum it is using for high-speed mobile Internet service.

By Cecilia Kang  |  December 12, 2008; 5:16 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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