Consumer Costs of Digital Conversion Worry Lawmakers

Feb 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A controversial proposal to require broadcasters to switch to digital TV by 2006 appears to be giving an increasing number of lawmakers qualms, because it could end up forcing millions of consumers to buy digital-to-analog converters to keep analog-only receivers alive.

At hearings before the House telecommunications subcommittee Thursday, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, reiterated plans to introduce legislation that would force broadcasters to make the switch as early as 2006.

He also made clear that he is continuing to consider a subsidy proposal to underwrite the converter costs for at least some of the 73 million analog-only sets currently estimated to be in consumer homes. But other lawmakers warned that the proposal would infuriate voters forced to pay for converters on their own. “If we drop this hammer on consumers, the sledgehammer is going to come back on us, as it should,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., also warned that the costs of subsidizing converters for all 73 million analog-only sets would amount to $7.3 billion, almost twice the $4 billion the government might raise from auctioning the broadcast industry’s analog channels, according to the more pessimistic auction forecasts in circulation.

In recent remarks to reporters, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who is calling the shots in the Senate on DTV transition issues, indicated that he also has serious doubts about forcing the transition. “I am not in for a hard date, ” Sen. Stevens said.

At the House hearings, Jong Kim, VP for public affairs and communications at LG Electronics, told lawmakers he thinks the cost of the converters could drop to as low as $50 by 2008, “assuming industrywide demand of millions of units by then.”