11.04.2005 08:00 AM
End game draws near as House, Senate move on DTV

The end game for the analog-to-digital transition is upon the television industry with recent action in both the House and Senate setting different hard dates for the end of analog transmission, establishing different amounts to fund a converter box subsidy program and leaving undone any mandate requiring cable operators to carry broadcasters’ digital multicast channels.

Legislation passed by the Senate Commerce committee Oct. 20 sets April 7, 2009, as the hard date for the switch. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week approved draft legislation that sets Dec. 31, 2008, as the end of analog transmission. The Senate version allocates $3 billion for a converter box subsidy; the House version sets the figure at $990 million. These and other differences will be worked out in conference if both chambers approve the work of the committees.

Neither settles the issue of DTV multicast must carry, an item broadcasters have said is critical to their future. The House version of the legislation drew criticism for lack of DTV multicast must carry requirements last week from an unexpected source: the Family Research Council. The organization contended that a lack of a multicast must carry provision will allow cable operators to program channels with no decency standards, as opposed to broadcasters that must comply with FCC regulations covering indecency.

The House version of the legislation educates consumers about the analog-to-digital conversion. The mandated education includes: a label on newly sold analog TVs warning consumers of the digital conversion; a requirement for retailers to place a warning sign in their stores; and outreach programs from the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration to educate consumers.

The House version also mandates TV broadcasters and multichannel video program distributors to air a minimum of two 60-second public service announcements per day for one year beginning Jan. 1, 2008, with specific language to educate consumers on the cessation of analog service.

To read the version approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, visit http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/Markups/10252005/Committee%20Print.pdf.

To read the version approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, visit http://commerce.senate.gov/pdf/reconcil10.pdf.

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