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Markey measure would force digital TV sets

Nov 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Lawmakers routinely gripe about the slow progress of the digital television rollout, but now an influential congressman is exploring legislation to do something about it.
Rep. Ed Markey, ranking Democrat on the House telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee, may offer a bill mandating that all new television sets be capable of displaying digital signals by a specific date.
The Massachusetts lawmaker is raising the specter of legislation as he and other media-minded congressmen prepare to meet Nov. 28 in Washington with broadcast, film and electronics industry executives to urge them to resolve their differences over DTV. An aide cautioned that Rep. Markey will await the outcome of the meeting before deciding whether to offer the bill.
Under his approach, new TV sets would continue to display analog television channels but also would pick up digital signals.
The new sets, however, wouldn’t be required to display digital pictures in their richest format: high-definition.
“It would get us out of this kind of chicken-and-egg quandary,” the aide said. He explained that consumers won’t buy DTV sets en masse unless they’re cheaper and there’s more programming, but the networks won’t offer more DTV fare unless consumers buy more sets.
The Consumer Electronics Association would oppose such legislation and warned that TV set prices would rise dramatically under the plan.
But the congressman, a longtime powerbroker on communications issues who was instrumental in getting the v-chip added to TV circuitry, has heard those arguments before and thinks the CEA routinely blows cost concerns out of proportion. He championed a similar bill a few years ago.
Hundreds of mostly smaller TV stations could miss the 2002 deadline for converting to digital. Roughly 1.6 million DTV and DTV-compatible sets have been sold in the United States since 1998.
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., who’s informally spearheading the dialogue with industry, warned executives at a related meeting last month of possible legislation if the transition continues to stall.
“Billy made it very clear to everyone in that room: Come up with a plan for solving this problem or Congress will,” Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.