FCC Postpones ‘Free Internet’ Meeting

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Saturday it was canceling a December 18 meeting in response to a request by Democratic lawmakers that it pay more attention to a smooth transition to digital television early next year.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Rep. Henry Waxman of California wrote FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Friday asking him to hold off on other FCC business to focus on the mandatory switch to digital television signals due in February.

In a statement, FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said that “in light of the letter, it does not appear that there is consensus to move forward and the agenda meeting has been canceled.”

Next week’s meeting had been scheduled to consider a plan for auctioning a slice of the airwaves for free Internet and proposed rules to handle disputes between cable companies and content providers — both potentially controversial matters.

Rockefeller and Waxman said it would be “counterproductive” for the FCC to take on such issues when there already were questions about how ready it was to handle the transition to digital television.

Many lawmakers fear that the digital switch, in which about 15 percent of U.S. households will lose their current mode of television, will be troublesome because it requires consumers to buy new converter boxes to ensure they keep television service.

Signals are being converted to digital to free up airwaves for public safety uses, especially in emergencies.

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