New legislation would require cable operators to provide local TV signals at a discount

New legislation is being introduced in Congress that would require pay television operators to provide low-cost local TV signals to those who lose over-the-air television coverage as a result of the DTV transition. The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-VT.

Sanders is concerned that hundreds of thousands of homes may lose their television service when analog signals are shut down next February.

“I am introducing legislation that would require cable, satellite, and other paid TV companies to provide a basic broadcast service to those consumers who have lost channels due the DTV transition at a reduced cost, indefinitely,” he wrote to other members of Congress seeking support for the legislative effort.

Sanders’ office said as many as 800,000 homes may lose one or more local television signals after the shutdown. This may be due to a variety of factors, including weaker digital signals or blockage of signals due to local terrain.

“Regardless of one’s ability to pay, it is unfair to ask consumers who lose their TV reception to pay for what they previously received for free,” Sanders said. “Because the federal government was responsible for mandating this DTV transition, I believe it is the federal government’s duty, along with a wide range of industry partners, to ensure that our constituents are held harmless.”

The bill would establish criteria for determining who had lost free TV signals and is thus eligible to buy a lifeline service that consists solely of local TV signals. The legislation would price the service at $10 a month or less. Local TV stations would not be able to collect retransmission consent from cable subscribers who signed up for the local signal package.

“The Bush administration’s efforts for this transition are totally lacking, and millions of Americans may end up with no TV reception on February 18,” Sanders said. “You need to know that a converter box may not be enough to bring in an adequate signal and that you may need a new and stronger antenna — either for the roof or rabbit ears.”

Sanders said he is especially troubled that people can do all the government is telling them and still be without reception. “This is particularly true for people living in rural areas with hilly terrains that can block the digital signal. I am also concerned that, because of poor government planning and policy, lower-income people may not be able to afford the cost and installation of a roof antenna and that seniors, people with disabilities, and others may have a hard time handling this transition on their own.”

Currently, there are no good solutions for those people facing the loss of some or all of their over-the-air TV reception, Sanders said. That’s why he has initiated the low-cost lifeline basic television proposal.