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Deadline for Digital TV Established

Dec 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Feb. 17, 2009, is the new drop-dead date by which broadcasters must make the switch to digital TV, under a legislative compromise approved by House and Senate leaders late Sunday. In addition, the compromise would cap the federal subsidy for consumer acquisition of digital-to-analog converter boxes at $1.5 billion.

Under the Senate’s original DTV legislation, the DTV transition deadline was April 7, 2009, while the House legislation would have forced the switch by Dec. 31, 2008. The original Senate bill would have capped the converter subsidies at $3 billion, while the House bill would have provided $1 billion.

The new transition date and subsidy cap roughly split the differences. In a victory for broadcasters, the legislative compromise–which was approved by the full House Monday morning but is still subject to a final Senate vote–also eliminated a provision from the original House bill that would have required broadcasters to provide more than $5 billion in advertising time to promote the transition to DTV technology.

Also scrapped was a controversial provision in the House bill that would have allowed cable TV operators to downconvert high-definition broadcast signals to standard-definition DTV for five years after the transition. Under the language in the original House bill, most cable TV operators would have been required, during the same five-year period, to carry analog and digital versions of must-carry broadcast signals to ensure that cable customers equipped with analog-only TV sets wouldn’t have to get a new set-top converter box to continue receiving broadcast signals.

In a statement, David Rehr, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said: “NAB is pleased that the House included many pro-consumer DTV provisions in the budget reconciliation bill. We are especially encouraged that the legislation thwarts the cable industry’s desire to degrade delivery of HDTV pictures to consumers. We strongly urge Senate adoption of this legislation.”

In a statement, Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said: “The cable industry has long supported the important national public policy goal of completing the digital TV transition. After investing billions of dollars to bring the digital future to consumers, both cable operators and programmers stand ready to deliver. We’ll continue to work hard to educate consumers about the transition and to help prepare all Americans for the 2009 transition date.”