Claiming that the nation's conversion to digital television may be in danger, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said yesterday that it has filed a petition calling on federal regulators to adopt a new technical standard for digital broadcasting.
The petition marks the latest round in Sinclair's battle to change the way digital television is developed in the United States. The Cockeysville-based company has waged an aggressive public relations campaign, inviting broadcasting executives from around the country to Baltimore to lobby them.
Many within the broadcasting industry say Sinclair's crusade is needless and may jeopardize the future of digital television.
The controversy centers on a long-anticipated change in the way Americans get their television. All broadcast television channels around the country are scheduled to switch from analog technology to a clearer and more versatile digital signal by 2006. This enormous and complex conversion requires the adoption of various technical standards.
Cockeysville-based Sinclair, which owns and programs television stations nationwide, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to change one of those standards, and said it has gathered signatures for its petition from broadcast companies representing 300 television stations.
Sinclair said the disputed standard, known as 8VSB, is unable to carry a television picture reliably in areas with tall buildings or other signal-blocking impediments. As a result, according to Sinclair, viewers may be unable to get a television signal with a normal indoor antenna.
Sinclair added that remaining with 8VSB could cost consumers an average of $400 per household in reception equipment expenses. "There's a significant cost impact," said Mark Aitken, Sinclair's director of advanced technology.
In its petition to the FCC, Sinclair asked for the adoption of another standard, called COFDM, that the company believes will ensure more consistent digital television reception.
Not everyone in the industry thinks COFDM is needed, and some are concerned that Sinclair's effort could delay the transition to digital television. John Greene, a vice president of Capitol Broadcasting Co. Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., said his company had used 8VSB successfully on its WRAL station. "We don't have the problem Sinclair has identified," Greene said.