Barton Proposes Bill to Set 2008 DTV Conversion Deadline

May 23, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has proposed to set a Dec. 31, 2008, deadline for the broadcast industry’s transition to digital TV, according to a copy of a draft bill by the lawmaker that was making the rounds in Washington Monday.

Another provision in the bill-which is expected to be the subject of hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday-would require consumer electronics manufacturers to include DTV tuners in all TV sets 13 inches and larger as of July 2006, advancing their mandate by a year. The bill, as drafted, would also require TV stations to air public service announcements twice daily to inform the public that analog-only TV sets won’t get over-the-air signals without digital-to-analog converters after the conversion date.

One of the bill’s more controversial provisions would require cable TV operators that downconvert a must-carry TV station’s digital signal to analog to also provide the station’s digital signal to subscribers-and provide the signals of other must-carry stations to their customers under the same ground rules. In a blow to broadcasters, the bill would not require cable TV operators to carry all of the digital programming streams multicast.

“A conspicuous and fatal absence,” according to one well-placed broadcast industry source. Because Rep. Barton and House Democrats could not agree on a program, as the bill is currently written it does not provide government subsidies for consumers to buy converters. A source close to the debate said Rep. Barton wanted to limit government subsidies to needier households, while Democratic leaders would have offered subsidies for all analog-only TV sets.

“While we agree that a ‘date certain’ for the digital transition advances several public policy goals, including addressing vital public safety needs, we continue to believe we should not take action to shut off millions of television sets without a workable remedy for consumers,” said Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., in a joint statement. “Given the billions of dollars that the auction of the returned broadcast television spectrum are expected to garner, there is more than enough revenue to protect all affected consumers.”