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House Commerce committee moves to end analog TV transmission

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week introduced legislation that sets Dec. 31, 2008, as the final day TV broadcasters will be permitted to transmit an analog television signal. The committee approved the legislation on a 33-17 vote.

"America goes all digital" on Jan. 1, 2009, said committee chairman Joe Barton (R-TX). The legislation clears the way for the government to auction off a portion of the 700MHz band for new digital wireless services and frees up 24MHz of spectrum that will be allocated for use by emergency first responders. The spectrum auction is expected to raise $10 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

The House bill sets aside $990 million to fund a digital-to-analog set-top box program to assist over-the-air viewers who continue to rely on their old sets for viewing.

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunication Information Administration (NTIA) will administer the program, which will send up to two converter box coupons to any consumer upon request. The coupons can be taken to local retailers for a $40 discount on a converter box.

Other provisions of the legislation:

  • The NTIA, broadcasters, cable operators, retailers and television manufacturers must engage in a consumer education campaign regarding the transition.
  • The FCC is required to complete a series of proceedings necessary to assign broadcasters final digital channel assignments.
  • All new televisions 13in or more are mandated to include a digital tuner by March 1, 2007. The FCC deadline for larger sets is earlier. Television sets without digital tuners already in commerce must have warning labels regarding their inability to receive digital television programming.
  • Cable systems with a capacity greater than 550MHz are required to transmit a standard-definition version of a must-carry broadcast signal as well as an analog version of that signal for five years after the hard deadline. After five years, all cable systems must transmit whatever digital version of a station is sent to them by a broadcaster.

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