House focuses on late 2008 for analog switch-off

House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and other lawmakers meeting last week agreed to Dec. 31, 2008, as the probable date for shutting off analog television transmissions to complete the transition to digital.

In September, Barton said he will attach an amendment to the budget reconciliation bill to set a date certain for completing the transition.

While setting a date certain is an important step, it’s only one of many needed resolution to bring the transition to a successful completion, and it appeared as of last week that lawmakers had not yet agreed on much of anything else.

Although members from both sides of the aisle agreed that a government subsidy for a digital-to-analog converter was important, they disagreed over the scope of any such program. Most Republicans favored limiting the subsidy to poor families, while Democrats favored a subsidy for all 21 million TV households that do not subscribe to satellite or cable.

At last week’s meeting, the committee heard from various interested parties, including National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow and Barrington Broadcast CEO James Yager.

In his testimony, McSlarrow told the committee that a staff draft proposal requiring cable operators to send every must-carry broadcaster’s digital signal in digital format would force operators to choose between sending all must-carry stations only in digital and dual carriage of the digital broadcast and an analog version for analog cable customers. The result of sending must-carry stations in digital only would be that the majority of cable subscribers would lose those broadcast stations from their channel lineup, he said.

During his testimony, Barrington Broadcast’s Yager commended the draft proposal for recognizing the need to protect existing analog cable customers and providing a mechanism to compel cable operators to pass broadcasters’ DTV signals. He noted the draft needed to clarify language so cable operators would be required to carry smaller stations’ digital signals.

Yager also urged the committee to adopt “a strong multi-cast must-carry rule.”

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