DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor



Senator McCain Introduces Digital TV Transition Bill

June 17, 2005 . . . updated June 18

Senators McCain and Lieberman introduced "The SAVE LIVES Act" on the Senate floor on Tuesday (6/14). The Senate bill (S.1237) would move the transition to digital television forward, thus getting us closer to freeing up vital radio spectrum for use by public safety agencies.

That spectrum is now used by TV stations for their analog broadcasts, and will be returned to the government at the end of the transition. McCain has been impatient with progress toward the full adoption of the ATSC digital television standard, most notably with the slow progress being made by broadcasters, and apparently also with the absence of a digital transition bill from the Senate Commerce Committee (which he formerly chaired). [A similar bill can be expected shortly from that committee, now chaired by Ted Stevens of Alaska.]

The formal name for the bill is the "Spectrum Availability for Emergency-response and Law-enforcement to Improve Vital Emergency Services Act." The bill was drafted in response to the 9-11 Commission's Final Report, which recommended the "expedited and increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes."

I just got a copy of the bill, and have now provided a detailed update. Here are the basics:

The draft legislation:

  • would set the date for the shutdown of analog broadcasts at December 31, 2008 (same as the House draft bill),
  • would mandate that warning labels be displayed on analog television sets sold prior to the transition,
  • would require warning language to be displayed at television retailers,
  • would command the distribution at retailers of brochures describing the television set options available,
  • would call on broadcasters to air informational programs to better prepare consumers for the digital transition,
  • would provide digital-to-analog converter boxes to over-the-air viewers that have a household income that does not exceed 200 percent of the poverty line,
  • would allow cable companies to down-convert digital signals (presumably an interim measure), and
  • would establish a tax credit for the recycling of television sets.

The last provision obviously anticipates that millions of people will replace their analog sets in order to take advantage of the dramatically higher quality video and audio that comes with the new digital standard.