Omission in DTV legislation sets stage for second transition battle in Congress

House-Senate conferees dropped from the pending budget reconciliation measure a provision that would have allowed the cable television industry to downconvert broadcasters' high-definition digital signals to standard definition for viewing by analog cable customers.

The NAB called the dropping of this provision a matter of great importance to television stations, contending that it will protect consumers from the cable industry’s continued desire to degrade the picture quality of HD programming offered by local broadcasters.

However, the 39 million cable subscribers still on analog cable systems — the vast majority of the nation’s total cable subscribers — might not be so pleased with this protection when they learn they might have to upgrade to more expensive digital cable services in order to receive broadcast programming from local stations.

According to the National Journal, once broadcasters convert to all-digital transmission, cable systems will no longer be authorized to carry those signals over their analog systems without an agreement from the broadcaster. As a result, a subscriber would have to upgrade and pay higher fees for digital cable service or potentially be deprived of the digital television signal from that broadcaster.

Members of Congress, already spooked about disenfranchising their over-the-air viewing constituents in the transition, may not be pleased with this provision in the new DTV law. Some think the issue is so significant that it will force legislators to revisit DTV in a second bill that returns the downconversion provision to analog customers.

This would give the NAB a new opening for reconsideration of multichannel must carry.

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