President Bush has signed the budget reconciliation bill that sets Feb. 17, 2009 as the day analog television broadcast signals go away forever. The bill also allocates up to $1.5 billion to subsidize the digital-to-analog converters that will keep millions of existing analog sets out of landfills.
The NAB was happy to once again point out that a provision allowing cable operators to convert over-the-air HDTV signals to standard definition was excised from the bill before it reached the president's desk. Some observers note that this could spell bad news for stations in markets where cable capacity is limited, but that's the not the point right now. The point right now is to put a positive spin on the biggest industrial mandate in the history of the nation.
"With today's enactment of the budget reconciliation bill and its digital television provisions, we have crossed an important threshold," said NAB chief David Rehr in a statement. "NAB is pleased that Congress adopted many pro-consumer DTV measures in the legislation, and we're encouraged that the bill thwarted cable industry attempts to degrade the quality of HDTV pictures to consumers."
The Consumer Electronics Association issued a different kind of happy sound over the president's signature. The digital transition has given CEA members an unprecedented opportunity to foist expensive new gizmos onto consumers, and the $1.5 billion subsidy for D2A converters creates a guaranteed market for those devices. Consumers will buy "more than 18 million DTV sets and displays" this year, according to CEA prognostications.
CEA honcho Gary Shapiro said, "With the combination of the hard cut-off date, continuing strong sales of DTV products, an increasing array of quality high-definition programming and the coming advent of new pre-recorded HD content, we are well on our way toward making the U.S. a 'DTV nation.'"
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