[opendtv] News: Barton: 2009 Analog-Cutoff Date 'Frozen'

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 06:56:03 -0400


Barton: 2009 Analog-Cutoff Date 'Frozen'

By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/26/2005 12:16:00 PM

It looks as though New Years Day 2009 will definitely be D-Day for 
the cutoff of analog-TV service.

At a hearing on draft digital-TV legislation Thursday, House Commerce 
Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said the "discussion draft" 
had room for negotiation on numerous points, but the Dec. 31, 2008, 
cutoff date is "pretty much frozen."

Barton also said he would support a limited, means-tested subsidy for 
digital converter boxes to low-income analog viewers, although no 
subsidy was in the draft.

The hearing was not on a bill, per se, but on a draft of a bill 
because the committee members failed to agree on one.

Rep Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the committee was able to agree on the 
need to bring the DTV transition to a conclusion and that a hard date 
was needed to do that. They also agreed on the need to return 
frequencies for use by emergency communications and new broadband 
wireless services.

"Notwithstanding that accord," he said, what could not be resolved 
were any new public interest obligations, multicast must-carry, 
cable's downconversion of DTV for analog subscribers, and how to 
treat consumers fairly when the government renders their analog TV's 

The key consumer fairness issue and a point of wide divergence among 
the members is a government subsidy for converter boxes to allow 
disenfranchised analog-only sets to operate in the digital age.

Some legislators want a subsidy for all 73 million analog sets, 
including second or third analog-only sets in cable and satellite 
homes, regardless of income. They point out that auction of the 
reclaimed analog spectrum could raise as much as $30 billion, against 
which a subsidy of $3.7 billion ($50 per converter box for all 73 
million analog-only sets) would be doable with plenty left over for 
the treasury. Others argue that with proper notification that the 
switch is coming, no subsidy may be necessary.

Because it involves billions to the treasury from an analog spectrum 
auction, the DTV bill is tied to a budget reconcilliation bill. 
Several legislators backing the subsidy warned that telcom policy was 
in danger of being trumped by budget concerns, and argued that the 
first dollars--potentially to the last--should go to covering  
subsidy before any other budgetary claims were put on it.

But whether it is a subsidy or sufficient notification, all seemed in 
agreement that the analog cut-off could become a political land mine 
if not handled correctly.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) suggested that if a DTV hard date bill 
passed Tuesday "we would all be impeached Wednesday."

While several legislators have latched onto the "new third rail" 
metaphor for the "untouchability" of TV service, Inslee invoked Jim 
Croce in offering a new one (this is a close paraphrase): "You don't 
tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull 
the mask on that old Lone Ranger, and you don't take away people's TV 

Democrat Edolphus Towns of New York had an amendment to that: You 
don't let others steal it, either. Towns said he would work to have 
language introduced to the bill empowering the FCC to mandate the 
broadcast flag technology that protects digital content from 
widespread piracy. The court threw out the FCC's broadcast flag rule, 
saying it had no authority to impose it.

Fellow New York Democrat Eliot Engel shared that concern over 
protecting digital content, pointing out that bootlegged digital copy 
of the new Star Wars movie was available online simultaneously with 
its theatrical release and on DVD soon after.

Ranking committee Democrat John Dingell (Mich.) said the bill must 
address two questions answered: 1)  "Why should ordinary citizens pay 
more because of a governmental decision that makes their television 
sets obsolete?" and 2) "Why can't the proceeds from the sale of 
spectrum, which is a public good, be used to reimburse citizens for 
their transition costs and for other important telecommunications and 
public safety needs?"

Barton said he expected the DTV bill to be part of a larger budget 
reconciliation package sent to the budget committee by September, and 
that it would become law by the end of the year.
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