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Hard Deadline Proposed For Switch To Digital TV; Even If Government Must Supply Equipment For Low-income Households
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Congress said broadcasters had to transition to the digital spectrum by Dec. 31, 2006 “or” when 85 percent of TV viewers in any given market had a digital TV set. The ‘or,’ in my opinion, is a fatal flaw
Joe Barton, R-Texas, Commerce Committee Chairman

Hearing witnesses have cautioned the House Telecommunications Subcommittee that a firm deadline for completing the switch from analog to digital television is critical.

“Every year that we wait is another year too late,” said Steve Souder, director of the Montgomery County, Md., 911 Emergency Communications Center.

In a subcommittee hearing Thursday, the high-tech and public safety community backed a proposed deadline of Dec. 31, 2008. The hearing focused on draft legislation that would set a 2008 deadline, require a consumer education campaign, and require cable operators to carry broadcasters’ digital signal.

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House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, said a “big failure” in current law is driving the need for legislation. In 1997, Congress said broadcasters had to transition to the digital spectrum by Dec. 31, 2006 “or” when 85 percent of TV viewers in any given market had a digital TV set.

“The ‘or,’ in my opinion, is a fatal flaw,” Barton said. “If we don’t eliminate that ‘or,’ I’m not sure this county’s ever going to get the digital transition.” Barton said he would be willing to support a limited equipment supply program, so long as it is targeted toward low-income households.

Consumers would benefit by moving television broadcasts from the current analog spectrum to a digital spectrum. Once the analog spectrum is available, not only would consumers be able to receive new Internet and communication services, but police and firefighters could improve the radio systems that are vital to their lifesaving missions.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the subcommittee, said it would be a failure if the country doesn’t complete the digital transition: “Failure for the broadcasters who have each invested millions of dollars to convert. Failure for the manufacturers who have been encouraged to produce the sets. Failure for those consumers expecting new advances and better quality to improve their lives, whether in new devices and technology or public safety. And failure for the taxpayers expecting more than $10 billion for the sale of the analog spectrum.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the subcommittee, said some disagreements over the bill are “not insurmountable.”

Several witnesses said that Congress should set a firm deadline for completing digital transition. Representatives of the cable, retail and consumer electronics industries, along with a representative from the 911 system, said a firm deadline was vital.

Accelerating the digital transition is the most important thing Congress can do to improve broadband deployment, particularly for rural areas, said Peter Pitsch, communications policy director for Intel. “The ability to use TV frequencies would accelerate growth, expand the reach, reduce the cost and improve the quality of broadband wireless service,” Pitsch said.


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