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Yet Another Wrinkle in the DTV Saga

Kim Hart

The day before the House is scheduled to vote on the bill to delay the digital television transition until June 12, a ranking Republican is asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for a postponement until more light is shed on a potential conflict of interest from a transition team adviser.

In a letter sent today to Pelosi, Darrell Issa (R-CA),ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is asking questions about the involvement of a former transition team member in the push to delay the transition. According to reports in ArsTechnica and the Examiner, R. Gerard Salemme was an adviser on DTV issues. He's also an executive with Clearwire, which, the reports say, stands to benefit from a delay in the transition.

Clearwire and Sprint Nextel have teamed up to build out a 4G, or fourth-generation, wireless network known as WiMax. The reports above argue that delaying the transition could hold up plans by Verizon Wireless, AT&T and other wireless companies to build out their own next-generation networks. They spent billions to purchase the airwaves that will be vacated by the transition.

But Verizon Wireless and AT&T have said a delay will not hugely impact their plans, since their networks will not be rolled out before June 12, the proposed new transition date. In fact, both companies say they support the delay. And Verizon Wireless said in an investors call last week that it does not plan to roll out its new LTE network until the first half of 2010.

In that case, it doesn't look like a delay would give an extra advantage to Clearwire.

Clearwire said in a statement that it does not benefit from a delay and has not taken a position on the issue.

"Gerry Salemme , like many U.S. executives, took a leave of absence from his employer to volunteer to help with the Obama transition team," the company said. "There is broad support for the DTV delay crossing many different industries affected by the transition, which include the Consumer's Union, AARP, Verizon, AT&T, all four major broadcast networks, and the unanimous U.S. Senate believe the DTV transition should be delayed."

According to sources close to the situation, Salemme stopped working with the transition team in mid-January, before Congress seriously considered voting to delay the switch to digital TV.

It seems that Issa's main concern is whether Salemme's role at Clearwire was properly disclosed.

"The policy recommendations made by President Obama may have been influenced by an individual with a conflict of interest of which he may not have been aware," the letter said. "Any improper influences on the President's policy position that lead Congress to act one way or another permanently cloud the resulting legislation."

He also sent a letter to White House Counsel Gregory Craig.
It's unclear if this letter will have any impact on the House vote tomorrow.

By Kim Hart  |  February 3, 2009; 4:19 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
Previous: DTV Transition Still In Limbo | Next: New Face at NTIA to Oversee DTV Switch

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Kim --

Thanks for your ongoing coverage of this and other important tech issues pending before the FCC and the Congress. We want your readers to know the columns from Ars Technica and the Examiner which you link to mischaracterize Sprint Nextel’s position on the transition to DTV as well as the timing of the Clearwire transaction.

Our company has not lobbied the FCC, the Congress, the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration or the Obama transition team on the date of the transition to DTV. Furthermore, Sprint has not employed Mr. Salemme in any capacity to work for our company on this issue. In addition, we did not participate in the 700 MHz auction.

Unfortunately, neither news outlet contacted Sprint Nextel for comment before publishing their articles linking the company with the DTV transition. Given the public's on-going interest and concern regarding the possible shift in the date for the DTV transition, we wanted to clarify that Sprint Nextel has had no role in this public policy discussion.

John Taylor /
Public Affairs
Sprint Nextel Corp.

Posted by: John_Taylor | February 4, 2009 3:50 PM

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