WASHINGTON (AP) -- TV stations should be forced to pay for their existing channels beginning in 2003 as they switch over to new and hugely lucrative digital channels, the head of the Federal Communications Commission says.
FCC Chairman William Kennard says the nation needs the soon-to-be-abandoned channels now used for analog TV signals in order to provide room for ever-expanding new wireless technologies.
Citing billions of dollars in free digital channels that the industry is getting from the government, Kennard, in a speech scheduled for delivery Tuesday, challenged broadcasters to pay back the public by televising every presidential debate, airing more public service announcements and providing free air time to candidates.
Digital television allows broadcasters to offer sharper pictures and more channels. They could even use the airwaves to deliver stock quotes or other data to both home computers and TV sets, akin to an Internet service.
As part of the transition, broadcast stations will have two channels-- one in digital and the other in analog format -- so people can still watch broadcast shows on their existing analog TVs.
Broadcasters are supposed to return their analog channels by 2006 or when digital television reaches 85 percent of the market. But Kennard says this could allow broadcasters to be "spectrum squatters," holding on to analog channels for decades longer. He wants Congress to set a fixed date.
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