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Senate leader nixes quick DTV deadline

A Senate leader on technology issues said the Senate may accept a hard deadline for the digital TV transition, but it is unlikely to go along with an emerging House proposal to end analog transmissions as early as the end of next year.

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV.), head of the Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on technology told reporters after addressing a Washington audience gathered by the Consumer Electronics Association that setting a date in either 2007 or 2008 would be more of a compromise.

Broadcasters generally oppose setting a deadline, arguing that cutting off analog transmissions could leave millions without essential TV service. The consumer electronics industry however wants a deadline as does Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chair of the House Commerce Committee. Barton told the same audience he expects to soon introduce a bill setting a hard date.

Barton said he prefers a deadline of Dec. 31, 2006 — a date set years ago by Congress but which added an NAB-backed escape clause: the transition need not take place until 85 percent of viewers can receive a digital TV signal.

Barton suggested the 85 percent goal is close in many markets, if regulators count subscribers to cable systems that can convert broadcasters’ digital signals to analog signals that will work with old TVs.

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