Three Cheers for a Digital TV Pioneer
Where the consumer electronics industry is today in terms of technological advances seems light years ahead of where it was when former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Dick Wiley was deep in the legislative weeds.
His service as FCC chairman began during the Nixon Administration and concluded in 1977 – a 40th anniversary benchmark that the Consumer Technology Association acknowledged Oct. 18 with a commemorative reception in Wiley’s honor at CTA’s Washington, D.C.-located Innovation House.
But while his FCC tenure ended at that time, Wiley’s service to the American public did not. From 1987 to 1995, he served as chair of the FCC Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service, and was instrumental in laying the foundation for HDTV, as John Taylor, senior vice president of Public Affairs and Communications for LG Electronics, noted, as one of a string of speakers at the reception.
“Dick volunteered, and led a national commission to prepare the best-possible DTV standard – and we ended up with the best standard in the world,” said CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. “We ended up with something world class – with the most robust system.” This was all ironed out despite initial pushback from factions including the computer industry and the Department of Defense, Shapiro said. “Every year there was some major new blockage destined to overthrow this whole thing, and the results were not pre-determined – but we ended up on the right side,” Shapiro said.
Just think about how all that diligence, close cooperation and legwork ended in a near-seamless transition in American homes from analog to digital television – the $40 coupons for converter boxes, which led eventually to the wholesale “upconversion” of American consumers to TVs with built-in digital tuners, and then, to where we are today.
Dick Wiley, steward of the airwaves for so long, was instrumental in the above-and-beyond department, and the industry has rightly recognized the hard work.
Hats off to him, and by extension, to his leadership and vision which unendingly motivated his cohorts to forge ahead on the journey to HDTV – proving the value not only of smooth technological transitions but also, that close cooperation for the public good is, indeed, possible.
It just goes to show that push-pull in government need not always end in inaction and stalemates where little gets done.
Although analog TV is gone, let’s hope that the spirit of compromise that enabled its sunset isn’t. May Wiley’s example continue to inspire for years to come.