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Regulators Push DTV Transition Plan

USA Today carried an article last week, Plan considered to speed digital-TV shift. This article, and others published over the last two weeks, talk about a plan being considered by the FCC that would require multiple video program distributors such as cable operators and DBS companies that carry local TV channels to switch to the broadcasters' digital channels and then convert them to analog at some point for subscribers with analog TV sets. Over-the-air TV viewership has dropped to 15 percent or less of the households in many communities, according to surveys (which probably don't include second or third sets and portable sets). By providing the broadcasters' digital signals on satellite and cable in analog format to the TV sets, this would allow the FCC to shut off analog broadcasting after 2006 and comply with the law requiring that 85 percent of households be able to receive the digital signal.

As you can imagine, there are concerns about this from broadcasters and members of Congress. Read the "USA Today" article for more details. Note that as reported last week, effective April 1, 2004, broadcasters will have to simulcast 75 percent of their analog programming on their DTV channel. A year later, the simulcast requirement increases to 100 percent. Under current FCC digital must-carry rules, cable companies are only required to carry the "primary" DTV channel of a broadcaster. This could complicate the transition plan if broadcasters put current analog programming on a standard definition DTV program stream and different HDTV programming on another.