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Sep 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Thursday, Sept. 19

Tauzin aims to close DTV loophole

In a startling blow to broadcasters, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., has released legislation that would require television stations to convert to digital TV transmission by Dec. 31, 2006. Existing law permits broadcasters to keep both their analog and DTV channels until at least 85 percent of the viewers in their communities are able to receive digital transmissions — a threshold that many industry observers predict won’t be reached for a dozen years or more. But under Rep. Tauzin’s bill, which was being circulated today among industry lobbyists in Washington, that 85 percent loophole would be slammed shut.

“Television broadcasters would be required to cease analog television service [and operate in digital] by Dec. 31, 2006,” the paper accompanying the draft bill said. The paper also explained the lawmaker’s motivation: to “ensure the availability of analog television spectrum for future uses.”

Other controversial provisions in the legislation, which is expected to be debated in congressional hearings next Wednesday, would do the following:

— Codify recent Federal Communications Commission rules requiring consumer electronics manufacturers to include DTV and analog tuners in most new sets;

— Make clear that cable operators won’t have to carry both a broadcaster’s analog and digital TV signals during the transition to the new technology;

— Mandate that cable subscribers must be able to get DTV programming without a separate cable set-top box.

The bill is silent on the issue of whether to require cable operators that carry a broadcast DTV signal to carry all of the free programming included.

“To be supplied,” the explanatory paper said.

At deadline, the National Association of Broadcasters had no comment.

But the quick consensus among industry lobbyists appeared to be the proposal to kill the 85 percent loophole is politically naÔve at best.

“What could be more anti-consumer than turning off their analog TV sets?” said one broadcast industry source.

“We’re disappointed,” added David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television. “It’s a staff draft; it’s designed to stimulate discussion, and that provision surely will.”

In a statement, Rep. Tauzin said the bill is bipartisan and is aimed at encouraging the transition.

“While we prefer marketplace solutions, clearly it is time for us to provide leadership in this area,” Rep. Tauzin said.