Democrat Congress may revisit DTV transition

Members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the NTIA outlining changes they want made to policies for the conversion to digital television.
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The new Congress under the control of Democrats may revisit the DTV transition in the new year and order changes to government policy for converting digital transmissions for viewing on older analog sets.

Last week, 20 Democrat members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to John Kneuer, acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), outlining changes they want made to policies in the conversion of American consumers to digital television.

Kneuer, a Republican who is waiting for Senate approval to head the NTIA, advises the White House on communications policy and would spearhead the conversion program.

Currently, legislation passed under the Republican-controlled Congress sets Feb. 17, 2009, as the termination date for analog TV transmissions. That same legislation authorizes $1.5 billion to help viewers purchase digital-to-analog converter boxes that allow the viewing of the new signals on legacy TV sets.

Under the law, households are to be allowed to apply for up to two coupons worth $40 each toward purchases of the converter boxes, estimated to cost about $50. Among the signers of the letter were Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), who becomes chairman of Energy and Commerce Committee next year, and Edward Markey (D-MA), the anticipated chairman of Energy and Commerce’s Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee.

The Democrats contend that the Republican-controlled Congress “failed to provide sufficient funding” for the conversion program, and warned that failure to design a simple coupon strategy “could significantly jeopardize the public’s acceptance of the transition and derail the firm deadline.”

The Democrat legislators also opposed restricting participation in the converter program only to households receiving over-the-air analog broadcasts because other citizens with analog sets would be “disenfranchised.”

It was also recommended that converter boxes replicate the picture and audio quality that consumers now get with analog sets, and that the devices be software upgradeable for future advancements in receiver technology. Such new requirements may necessitate setting a manufacturing deadline for converters meeting the government's standards, experts said.

The NTIA said it would soon respond to the new Democrat proposals.