Barton Slaps Hard Deadline on DTV Transition


As he promised
in February, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) is moving forward with
legislation to force television broadcasters out of their beachfront analog
spectrum to make way for advanced services, such as wireless broadband.


Under the draft “discussion” legislation introduced this week by Barton, the
chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, broadcasters must cease
transmitting programs in analog format by December 31, 2008.


Barton’s committee will hold its first hearing on the legislation Thursday.


“We’ve held four hearings since last year on the digital television
transition and dedicated the past two months to seeking a bipartisan
consensus. It’s now time to take the next step and legislate,” Barton said
in a statement.


With broadcasters to be removed from the space by a set date, Barton and
others envision a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction for the
spectrum that could bring in billions to the government.


Under current law, broadcasters are required to vacate their analog spectrum
by Dec. 31, 2006, or when 85 percent of the homes in their market are
capable of receiving DTV signals from all broadcasters in that market. The
85 percent rule has caused many to question whether the DTV transition can
be met this decade.


The rules date back to 1997 when Congress gave broadcasters an additional
6 megahertz of the 700 MHz band to facilitate a transition to digital
television. Congress said if more than 15 percent of the homes in a market
could not receive a digital signal, the broadcasters could retain the
spectrum.


“The current 85 percent penetration test guarantees only confusion and
uncertainty. It is far wiser to plan for the coming change than to sit back
and wait for television sets to go dark,” Barton said in a statement. “That
is the common sense principle upon which this discussion draft is
predicated.”


Television broadcast spectrum is considered especially prime for broadband
wireless since it allows for the penetration of walls and other obstacles over
large distances.


“This spectrum will also raise billions of dollars at auction, helping us
further reduce the federal deficit,” Barton said. “In addition, our
legislation will foster new investment and job growth in the communications
sector. Consumers can look forward to wireless broadband and other services
and products unimaginable several years ago.”


The draft legislation maintains the FCC’s existing digital tuner-mandate
deadlines for integrated television receivers that have 25-inch screens or
larger, and to accelerate, to July 1, 2006, the deadline for televisions
with 13- to 24-inch screens.


In addition, Barton wants manufacturers to place labels on analog-only
television sets indicating that those sets will need to be attached to a
digital receiver, digital-to-analog converter box or multi-channel video
service to continue receiving broadcast programming after Dec. 31, 2008.


“We are contemplating, in our hard-date legislation, the creation of some
type of digital-to-analog converter program to assist exclusively
over-the-air television households in getting those converter boxes,” Rep.
Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and the Internet, said in February.


Last year, the Bush administration said it opposed subsidizing converter
boxes for Americans who can’t afford the DTV sets. Instead, Bush supports an
annual analog spectrum tax on broadcasters who fail to vacate their current
spectrum.

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