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Hearing reveals return of analog spectrum, not DTV promotion primary goal

The tide is shifting in Congress against television broadcasters who oppose a hard date for turning off America’s analog television system. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has endorsed a plan that would force TV stations to return their analog spectrum to the federal government by 2006.

Barton also endorsed the idea of the federal government paying for digital converter boxes for poor people who don’t receive cable or satellite television as part of the transition. Details of such a subsidy were not outlined.

While the ideas expressed at the June 2 House hearing on DTV weren’t new, Barton’s enthusiastic support was unexpected. By reputation, he is an advocate of free markets and an opponent of government subsidies. He surprised broadcasters, who vehemently oppose any hard deadline to complete the transition.

While the FCC has proposed a plan that would complete the transition by 2009, it was Barton who suggested the earlier 2006 deadline. Otherwise, he said, the transition could take decades to complete.

The chairman hammered home the reality that broadcasters no longer enjoy the political clout they once had in Congress. Barton emphasized that the government is far more interested getting return of the stations’ analog channels and selling them for new services than it is in helping the broadcasters promote DTV.

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