02.06.2005 08:00 AM
Congressional leaders demand hard DTV deadline

Two Congress members have called for legislation ordering the return of its analog spectrum by the end of 2006.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, called for quick legislation to set the hard date for the return of spectrum by the end of 2006.

The law states that 2006 is the date, and not 2009 as the FCC has recommended. Under current law, broadcasters are required to cease analog transmissions at the end of 2006, or when 85 percent of the U.S. TV viewing audience receives a digital signal, whichever comes later. The 85 percent number, a loophole inserted into the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has long been considered an unreachable goal designed to stretch the transition.

Barton’s call was backed by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Commerce Committee’s telecommunications subcommittee. Upton sees a “hard date” bill being passed by the House by the end of May, and suggested it could include a subsidy for viewers needing a conversion box to view digital signals.

In 1996, Congress gave broadcasters the use of additional spectrum so they could transmit both analog and digital signals, while making the investments needed for converting to digital broadcasting. Critics charged the additional spectrum was worth as much as $70 billion.

The cost-free use of additional spectrum, under the conditions set, was to expire at the end of 2006. Now, telecommunications companies want to acquire the spectrum from the government for mobile phone and wireless Internet services.

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