Revised Analog Cut-Off Likely Dec. '08

With the way things appear on Capitol Hill right now, DTV and HD procrastinators may have a few more years to make a clean break and put off getting rid of their analog spectrum for good.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton held a hearing a few days ago on a draft bill that apparently is still open for discussion in several respects--except for the final cut-off date now stipulated in the draft to take effect on Jan. 1, 2009. That would represent a full two-year delay from the current deadline (which few industry observers ever thought would suffice, anyway).

The committee's ranking minority member, Rep. Ed Markey, said virtually all lawmakers agree that only a hard date to cut off analog services will be effective in ending the old analog realm and ushering in the digital age for broadcasters, once and for all. (No one seemed to mention the fact that there already is a hard cut-off in effect, albeit a faulty one.)

What could still be looming down the road is the 85 percent rule. It still may not be met in some markets by late 2008. The FCC at one point, was seriously considering redefining "digital access" to include consumers who could pick up digital content from cable via analog channels--as a way to quickly, and somewhat artificially, clear that 85-percent hurdle. Cooler heads prevailed, for now. The idea of redefining what constitutes digital access, however, is not yet dead.

While a later cut-off date is likely to delay the overall transition to HD and other DTV services by mass numbers of American consumers (how much is arguable), the NAB is now running a campaign targeted at Congress to slow the final transition as much as possible, that declares, "Don't give over 20 million American homes a snow job." The lobby group is asking Capitol Hill "not to abandon" what it says is 73 million terrestrial analog sets still allegedly operating in those 20-million homes. It will be 20 years ago next spring that NAB first began lobbying for an HD transition for broadcasters (when HD was offered in analog, and only in Japan). A new start date of Jan. 1, 2009, supported by NAB, likely will become law late this year.