Techies eager for end of analog

DirecTV, others seeking frequencies without delay

Some of the nation's high-tech darlings joined forces with the satellite TV companies Tuesday in an effort to ensure that analog TV service is switched off in 2009.

The Coalition for 4G in America wants to ensure a swift turnaround for the frequencies that broadcasters will abandon when they begin digital-only broadcasts on Feb. 17, 2009. Bidding for the frequencies — the ones Americans have tuned in to for more than 50 years — is scheduled to begin Jan. 28.

EchoStar, DirecTV, Intel, Google, Skype, Yahoo! and Access Spectrum, the coalition's members, are expected to bid for some of the frequencies, which are prized for "advanced" communications services because they can penetrate walls and other obstacles.

In creating the coalition, the companies said, "The congressionally mandated DTV transition must remain on track."

However, there have been hints from lawmakers that the switch to digital TV will be postponed. Most recently, Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., expressed concern that the programs the Commerce Department and the FCC were charged with developing for the switch are inadequate.

Under the program, Congress set aside $1.5 billion for an initiative that would refund viewers some of the money spent on set-top boxes.

"We don't yet have technical standards for the boxes," Dingell said. "We don't know when the boxes will be ready. We don't know how much personal information consumers must disclose on the application."

He later told reporters that changing the date was an option.

"We need to fix a date that makes sense," he said. "This is one of those things we will be looking at."