McCain Pushes for 2009 Digital Deadline

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In an end-of-the-session legislative swat at broadcasters, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has tentatively slated a vote for Wednesday on a major bill that would force TV stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasting by Jan. 1, 2009. According to a staff draft of the legislation making the rounds Monday, the bill also would authorize $1 billion to subsidize acquisition of digital-to-analog converters to ensure that some of the 73 million analog-only TV sets in the United States that aren’t connected to cable or satellite don’t go dark when broadcasters are forced to pull the plug on analog operations.

According to the bill, low-income households and other households that rely exclusively on over-the-air reception would get first crack at the subsidies. In addition, the bill would require analog-only TV sets sold after Sept. 30, 2005, to include labels warning that they won’t be able to receive broadcast signals after Dec. 31, 2008, “without the purchase of additional equipment.”

Proponents of the bill say the hard deadline would serve the public’s best interest by clearing the way for reallocating some of the broadcast industry’s analog spectrum for public safety communications. In addition, the hard deadline would clear the way for analog spectrum auctions that are expected to raise billions of dollars for the federal treasury.

Broadcasters oppose the measure, in part because the $1 billion subsidy would underwrite converters for only 10 million of the 73 million analog-only TV sets currently in the United States. Said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters: “NAB opposed the bill on grounds that tens of millions of Americans could potentially lose access to local TV stations if the McCain bill becomes law.” A spokesman said Sen. McCain intended to formally introduce the legislation Tuesday.