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Barton to advance legislation for date certain analog switchoff

ABC News’ Sam Donaldson asked a panel of lawmakers questions during the Congressional Breakfast at NAB2005.

Speaking on a panel April 18 at NAB2005, House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) told a roomful of television broadcasters that he plans to introduce legislation within the next few weeks to establish a date certain for the completion of the analog-to-digital television transition.

Barton made his comments during the Congressional Breakfast at NAB2005. He reminded broadcasters that in 1996 the industry told Congressional leaders that 10 years would be adequate to complete the transition.

He shared the stage with seven other lawmakers, including Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), and House members Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Fred Upton (R-MI), Gene Green (D-TX), Greg Walden (R-OR), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Michael Bilirakis (R-FL). ABC News’ Sam Donaldson moderated the event.

According to Barton, his bill would establish Dec. 31, 2006, or Dec. 31, 2007, as the date certain for the analog switchoff. The legislation would have a provision for a set-top digital-to-analog translator box subsidy for lower income over-the-air TV viewers and that about 10 million would be needed at $35 to $50 apiece. However, as the breakfast progressed he seemed to indicate there was some room for flexibility on the date.

Other panel members seemed less enthusiastic about pulling the plug on analog transmission. At least two said they did not look forward to being in their offices, taking calls from angry constituents, who will want to know why they can no longer receive free over-the-air TV the day after the switchoff.

The lack of DTV translators in many of the more remote areas of the country, prompted Burns to indicate that he may apply the brakes to any premature cutoff. Likewise, Bilirakis foresaw a situation where individual members would have to fend for their own districts. He reminded the audience that 20 percent of the people –many of who are senior citizens - in his Florida district rely solely on over-the-air reception.

During the questions from the audience, one broadcaster took the mic and sarcastically told Barton that broadcasters had failed Congress 10 years ago when it was considering a digital transition deadline. He said broadcasters did not explain the importance of a digital reception deadline as part of a digital transmission deadline.

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