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Powell: Broadcasters risk Congressional “backlash”

Continued foot-dragging on the transition to digital television had better come to an end or broadcasters could face a “backlash” from Congress, warned FCC Chairman Michael Powell last week at NAB.

“This country has an enormous amount of valuable spectrum real estate parked in this transition,” Powell said.

The FCC chairman warned that Congressional pressure is building to force broadcasters to return their much-needed analog channels to the federal government for auction or use by public agencies. “The demands for the spectrum have intensified,” he said.

A widely circulated FCC Media Bureau proposal to end the DTV transition by 2009 — vehemently opposed by broadcasters — could turn out to be the lesser of potential evils for over-the-air stations, Powell suggested. Broadcasters should reconsider their opposition, he said, warning: “More dangerous things might be afoot.”

Clearly frustrated with the protracted transition to DTV, Powell offered no sympathy for broadcasters who oppose setting a hard date to turn off analog broadcasting. “I get worried that the other thing will happen to you, which is that government forces will combine ... to yank it back or demand fees” for continuing to use the analog spectrum, Powell said.

“I think the (proposal) idea is fine but you should see it in light of even more dangerous things to come,” he said. “I don’t think you have 50 more years of government willingness to allow this spectrum to be used just for this purpose.”

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