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Congress Considers Extending Analog TV Shut-Off

(To read Doug Lung's full RF Report, click here.)

U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., has introduced House bill H.R. 7013, the Short-term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act in the House of Representatives.

The stated purpose of the act is, "To require the Federal Communications Commission to provide for a short term extension of the analog television broadcasting authority so that essential public safety announcements and digital television transition information may be provided for a short time during the transition to digital television broadcasting."

It would require that the FCC, no later than Jan. 15, 2009, "develop and implement in accordance with this section a program to provide for the continued broadcasting in the analog television service of the public safety information and digital television transition information ... from Feb. 18, 2009, through March 3 , 2009."

The act does not appear to mandate that all stations continue analog broadcasting. The FCC would be required to into account take market-by-market needs such as channel and transmitter availability when designing the program. Analog programming is limited to information explaining that the DTV transition has taken place and that additional actions are needed to continue to receive TV service, including emergency notifications. Programming would be required to explain the steps that analog viewers need to take to convert to digital and to provide telephone numbers and Internet addresses where viewers can obtain English and Spanish language help in converting to DTV. Any emergency information that is required to be transmitted on the station's digital channel must also be transmitted on the analog channel.

Analog broadcasting would be allowed only if it did not cause harmful interference to digital TV stations or "be authorized or enforced in a manner that will impair the legal rights of any licensee of recovered analog spectrum."

Analog transmissions would not be allowed on Channels 14-20 or "on any spectrum that is approved or pending approval by the Commission to be used for public safety radio services "

Cable and DBS operators would not be required to carry the analog signals.

This week, Sen, John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced a similar bill in the Senate. The language is similar to that of H.R. 7013, with the exception that it would run for 30 days, starting Feb. 18, two weeks longer than the period in the House Act. The Senate bill adds language allowing the FCC to permit broadcasting of "such other information as the Commission may find to be consistent with the public interest."

The House Act has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. These proposals deserve consideration. Leaving some analog signals on the air to make this information available to viewers who didn't understand or feel they needed to take steps to continue to receive analog TV is far better than having them face blank screens on Feb. 18.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.