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Broadcasters Open to ’09 DTV Deadline

Nov 8, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Major TV broadcasters have told the Federal Communications Commission that they might be willing to sign off on a controversial plan to force the industry to make the switch to digital by 2009 if the agency agrees to a variety of conditions intended to ensure that cable customers don’t lose access to broadcast digital signals.

“Any plan to end the transition and return analog spectrum must ensure that all consumers are able to receive, at their TV set, the full program offerings provided by free over-the-air broadcast services,” said the coalition of broadcasters, whose members include the National Association of Broadcasters, the Big 4 TV network affiliate associations and the ABC Television Network, in an Oct. 29 letter to the FCC.

Under the FCC’s pending plan, the agency is considering a proposal that would allow cable operators to downconvert a broadcaster’s DTV signal to analog at the cable operator’s headend to ensure that cable subscribers equipped with analog-only sets can continue receiving broadcast signals after the conversion.

But in their letter, the broadcasters asked the agency to make a key modification in the proposed provision to require cable operators to pass through the full panoply of broadcast DTV services to all subscribers, with the burden on cable operators to ensure that analog-only subscribers have the ability to downconvert the signals to analog if necessary in their homes. At their option, cable operators could also choose to send the broadcast signals in both analog and digital, according to the broadcasters.

The broadcasters also endorsed in the letter a plan calling for the federal government to subsidize digital-to-analog converters for consumers. In addition, they said the FCC plan as submitted to Congress included a provision that would require cable operators to carry all of the free services that a broadcaster opts to multicast in digital.

In a statement, Robert Sachs, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the broadcasters were really requesting that cable operators be required to carry a half-dozen or more video channels of each station.

“The FCC previously has held that the Communications Act only entitled broadcast stations to must-carry of a single digital video channel, and this latest broadcast submission offers no new legal justification for the FCC to reverse its position,” Mr. Sachs said. “The broadcast industry’s submission does nothing to advance the digital TV transition or promote a serious discussion about how to complete the transition.”

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said that he wants the agency to vote on the digital conversion plan before the end of the year.