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House OKs 2008 Digital Deadline

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The House of Representatives approved on a 217-215 vote late last week a major budget bill that includes a provision that would force broadcasters to make the switch to digital TV by Dec. 31, 2008.

Legislation already passed by the Senate would set a deadline of April 7, 2009.

With bills now cleared by both houses of Congress, the legislative action shifts to the lawmakers who are expected to meet in conference next month to try to work out the differences between the deadline dates and other conflicting provisions in the House and Senate versions of DTV bills.

Sources expect broadcasters to focus much of their lobbying muscle during the proceedings on stripping a provision out of the House bill that would allow cable TV operators to downconvert high-definition broadcast signals to standard-definition DTV for five years after the transition.

Under the House legislation, most cable TV operators would be required to carry analog and digital versions of must-carry broadcast signals for five years to ensure that cable customers equipped with analog-only TV sets won’t have to get a new set-top converter box to continue receiving broadcast signals.

“We are concerned that the downconversion provisions will create a disincentive for people to buy [high-definition TV] sets,” said David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television.

In addition, broadcasters are expected to lobby for a provision in the Senate bill that would provide up to $3 billion to subsidize consumer acquisitions of the digital-to-analog converter boxes that analog-only sets will need to continue receiving broadcast signals over the air in the DTV transition’s wake.

The House bill would cap the subsidy at $990 million-far too little, according to broadcasters, to provide converters for all 73 million of the analog-only sets currently in U.S. households.

The House legislation also includes a controversial provision that would require broadcasters to provide more than $5 billion in advertising time to promote the DTV transition on-air. Some broadcasters are arguing that the advertising would force them to promote cable TV and satellite delivery as technological alternatives to digital-to-analog converter boxes.