Hollings crafts digital TV bill

Jun 17, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The influential Senate Commerce Committee is in the early stages of preparing major legislation aimed at speeding up broadcasters’ largely troubled digital transition and could have a draft ready in months, Electronic Media has learned.
The measure, which panel Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., would likely introduce next year, would be the most comprehensive digital television bill to date and would signal that Congress will play an active role in shepherding the transition.
Legislation would have huge implications not just for television stations but also for cable companies, programmers and equipment manufacturers and would set off a pitched lobbying battle among the stakeholders.
Sen. Hollings’ goals dovetail with the priorities of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the panel, who has repeatedly threatened to offer his own bill if the television industry doesn’t make progress on unresolved issues.
The planned measure would focus on:
* Digital must-carry: The critical issue of whether-and if so, when-cable systems should be required to carry digital signals remains unresolved, raising questions about how widely available the feeds will be to TV viewers.
* Analog giveback: Many stations expect to miss the 2006 deadline for returning their analog spectrum to the government, a reality that is slowing the transition and already disrupting plans to auction the spectrum.
* Interoperability: Industry parties have failed to agree on uniform standards for set-top boxes and DTV sets. As a result, consumers connecting DTV sets to cable need proprietary set-tops from their cable providers to see DTV signals. Also, there’s no competitive market for set-tops.
* DTV tuners: Broadcasters and some consumer electronics companies are at odds over whether tuners-which allow viewers to access digital signals over-the-air-should be integrated into sets.
* Copyright protection: Protecting digital TV content from Internet piracy, already addressed by Sen. Hollings in a separate bill, would be tackled in the new legislation.
The planned measure builds on voluntary DTV proposals recently issued by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell that are intended to jump start the digital conversion.
In March, Sen. Hollings briefly alluded to his comprehensive DTV bill during an impromptu interview with Electronic Media but provided few details at the time.