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Panel to probe Padden, Smith on digital definition

WASHINGTON — As expected, ABC prexy Preston Padden and Sinclair Broadcasting Corp. prexy David Smith have been invited to testify at the Senate Commerce Committee’s Sept. 17 hearing on broadcasters’ plans for the digital TV services.

Padden and Smith have attracted a lot of attention with very public announcements that they plan to launch a multichannel broadcasting service with the spectrum Congress had expected to be used for High Definition Television. Unlike, Smith, Padden is not entirely ruling out the use of HDTV.

Tauzin switch

Also expected at the hearing is House Commerce Subcommittee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.).

Tauzin, an original sponsor of an amendment that allowed broadcasters to use the digital channel as they see fit, is now raising questions about their plans to do something other than HDTV. HDTV provides the highest possible resolution with six-channel surround-sound. Regular digital channels offer a picture with slightly lower resolution.

Tauzin was joined by Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) in his criticism of broadcasters’ plans to exploit the digital channel for uses besides HDTV. In a speech to telephone company executives, Oxley said, “If this is a trial balloon sent up by ABC, I would suggest it is made of pure lead.”

Eyes have it

Padden is expected to argue that average viewers will not be able to tell the difference between a regular digital channel and HDTV. Padden is also telling members of Congress that his planned multichannel service will not charge subscription fees in its early years. Smith is expected to argue that broadcasters will not be able to make enough money to support the extra channel in an HDTV environment.

Also invited to testify is FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who supports broadcaster efforts to use the digital spectrum for uses other than HDTV.

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