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Barton to advance legislation for date certain analog switchoff

ABC News’ Sam Donaldson peppered a panel of lawmakers with questions during the Congressional Breakfast at NAB2005.

Speaking on a panel April 18 at NAB2005, House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) told a roomful of television broadcasters that he plans to introduce legislation within the next few weeks to establish a date certain for the competition of the analog-to-digital television transition.

Barton, who reminded broadcasters that in 1996 the industry told Congressional leaders that 10 years would be adequate to complete the transition, made his comments during the Congressional Breakfast at NAB2005. The Congressman from Texas shared the stage with seven other lawmakers, including Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), and House members Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Fred Upton (R-MI), Gene Green (D-TX), Greg Walden (R-OR), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Michael Bilirakis (R-FL). All were peppered with questions from ABC News’ Sam Donaldson and the assembled broadcasters.

According to Barton, his bill would establish Dec. 31, 2006, or Dec. 31, 2007, as the date certain for the analog switchoff. He also said the legislation would have some provision for a set-top digital-to-analog translator box and that about 10 million would be needed at $35 to $50 apiece. However, as the breakfast progressed he seemed to indicate there was some room for grater flexibility on the date.

Other panel members seemed less enthusiastic about pulling the plug on analog transmission. At least two said they did not look forward to being in their offices, taking calls from angry constituents, who will want to know why they can no longer receive free over-the-air TV the day after the switchoff.

The lack of DTV translators in many of the more remote areas of the country, prompted Burns to indicate that he may apply the brakes to any pre-mature cutoff.

Likewise, Bilirakis foresaw a situation where individual members would have to “fend for our own districts.” He reminded the audience that 20 percent of the people —many of whom are senior citizens — in his Florida district rely solely on over-the-air reception for their television.

During the questions from the audience, one broadcaster took the mic and sarcastically told Barton that broadcasters had failed Congress 10 years ago when it was considering a digital transition deadline. He said broadcasters had failed to explain the importance of a “digital reception” deadline as part of digital transmission deadline.

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