At last year's HDTV Summit, the concept of "shutting off" analog television broadcasts and selling off the spectrum wasn't exactly front and center. Although the original goal for such action was 2006, by last year's summit, the possibility of accomplishing that goal seemed remote. Speakers and panelists were resigned to 2009, 2012, 2020... some date in the distant future. Broadcasters and particularly consumers didn't nearly seem ready to say goodbye to analog. Even today, most Americans are still just learning about HDTV. Fewer still have the slightest clue about the analog shutoff, and they'll likely do a lot of complaining to their elected officials once they find out.
That didn't stop a parade of speakers at this year's 10th Annual HDTV Summit from suddenly calling for a speedy analog-to-digital changeover, some calling for it to occur at the end of 2006 (as originally scheduled), others wishing for an even earlier end to TV-as-America-knows-it.
A parade of Republican legislators, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, called for the transition to occur and the spectrum to be sold off as soon as possible. They invoked as reasons to sell off the analog television spectrum everything from free enterprise and job creation, to spurring innovation and exciting new communications products, to filling the public coffers, to a new and some would say crass tactic: the de rigueur Republican invocation of 9/11, with several speakers noting that first responders need the analog spectrum to enjoy more effective communication during emergencies. The "first responders" reasoning was not heard at the last three HDTV Summits.