August 15, 2005
The Honorable Ted Stevens
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
508 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510-6125
Dear Mr. Chairman:
The Department for Professional Employees (DPE) of the AFL-CIO represents 10 affiliated national unions with nearly one half million media professionals—broadcasters, writers, performers, technicians and support workers—who are involved in all phases of news and entertainment programming. In addition, the 22 labor organizations which comprise our alliance represent nearly 2 million union households with over 5 million television viewers in them who are consumers of this programming.
On their behalf, I want to express to you our appreciation to you for your timely consideration of legislation to pave the way for the nation’s historic transition to Digital Television (DTV). For a number of years, the DPE and a number of our affiliates have been very involved in this issue. Member organizations have filed comments with the FCC as well as made known their views on Capitol Hill in an effort to assure a timely and judicious roll out of this new digital technology that will, we believe, greatly enhance the television viewing experience for our members, their families and the American public.
In this regard, we would like to advise you of our concerns regarding pending draft DTV legislative proposals and hope that our views will be taken into consideration as the legislation evolves.
There are clearly many special interests which have enormous commercial stakes in this matter. However, it is our belief that the primary concern of Congress should be the protection of consumer interest and choice as well as the continued viability of free, over-the-air television. In this regard, we believe that consumers—not cable operators—should be able to control the quality and quantity of local programming available. After all, consumers have or will invest hard earned dollars in new digital equipment; in exchange, they should be able to access all the benefits of the new technology like new, local multicast programming or the highest quality video products.
Among the issues that should be addressed in DTV transition legislation are the following:
- Affordability—First and foremost, to assure that “no consumer is left behind” in the transition process, the legislation must allocate sufficient resources to assure that the millions of low income viewers who now receive their TV signal from over-the-air sources but who cannot afford expensive digital television sets can acquire the low cost technology necessary to convert digital signals into analogue format.
- Accessibility—Consumers also should have access to every local station’s full digital signal whether that is a full high definition or multiple streams of programming. A multicast must-carry requirement would ensure that no cable operator can discriminate among local television stations and deny consumers access to certain local programming streams. To do otherwise would allow cable operators to discriminate against small stations or stations that feature minority programming which don’t have the economic or market share leverage to gain carriage by the cable operators. Such exclusion would be contrary to the FCC’s publicly stated concerns for retention and protection of “localism” with respect to news, information and entertainment programming in small, medium and large media markets. A multicast carriage requirement would not impose a demonstrably indefinite or extensive burden on cable operators since full carriage will ultimately require half of the cable capacity that is now required for today’s analog signals. Finally, at a time of severe employment contraction in this industry, this requirement would also guarantee that stations around the country would employ more on and off air talent in order to create and broadcast additional programming for the viewing public.
- Security—The disasters on 9/11 and more recently in London have clearly shown the need for more spectrum to be dedicated to first responders to assure adequate emergency response and on-the–ground communications during such catastrophes. The legislation should mandate the reserve of an appropriate amount of returned analogue spectrum for this purpose.
- Accountability—In exchange for the digital spectrum they will receive, we urge you and the Committee to adopt standards that will assure that broadcasters meet their public interest obligations—such as providing a defined amount of local content—as part of the licensing agreements that give them use of the public airwaves.
In closing, our unions are grateful for your leadership on these and other complex and difficult telecommunications policies. We appreciate this opportunity to express our views on the DTV legislation and we ask for your favorable consideration of the issues we have presented.
Paul E. Almeida
Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
Cc: Members of the Senate Commerce Committee