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NAB, Network Affiliates Oppose Revision of TV Conversion Plan

NAB sent a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell opposing the most recent proposals to speed up the DTV transition.

The letter, signed by Eddie Fritts from NAB, David Donovan from MSTV and affiliate organizations representing ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates stated, "While the revisions constructively address some of the defects in the earlier plan, fundamental flaws remain, because the Media Bureau's proposal would condone and encourage cable's down-converting (i.e., unlawfully degrading) broadcasters' digital services at the head-end, and it would thwart the benefits that digital was supposed to deliver to the public. It would also thwart Congress's main purpose for the transition, which was to assure universal availability of digital services to the American public."

The letter supported pushing the end of the transition from 2006 until 2009 and said that it hoped the steps the FCC was taking and the letter proposed would enable most markets to meet the transition date by 2009 "without the need to go outside the statutory framework as would be the case with the Bureau Plan."

The letter asserted that the Media Bureau plan only achieves one of the goals Congress sought to achieve in the DTV transition--reclaiming Channels 52-69 to be reallocated for other purposes. The other two goals "bring the benefits of digital technology with its potential for more programming options and advanced services to consumers," and "avoid the loss of free television to large numbers of consumers stranded with analog-only receivers."

NAB presented a middle ground proposal that "provided that cable systems could cease carrying broadcasters' analog signals if they carried broadcasters' full digital signals [which would include multicasts] and provided for down-conversion only at the home where required, so that analog sets would continue to receive service (down-converted at the set), while digital sets would receive full digital services." Under this proposal, all covered cable homes would count toward the 85 percent threshold and remain consistent with Congress' goals. On the other hand, counting cable customers that do not have the option to receive full digital service "would discourage consumers from buying digital sets, discourage development of digital services and undercut the Commission's efforts to facilitate the transition for consumers."

The letter also asked the Commission "to bring to a rapid conclusion the long-pending negotiations with Canada to provide interim DTV channels for all U.S. stations" and said it "should initiate discussions to develop a final DTV channel agreement with Canada and Mexico."

For more details on the broadcasters' proposal, refer to their letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell