DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor



House DTV Markup - Part 2

October 26, 2005

Since I have not had a chance to view more than a few minutes of today's House DTV bill markup session, I have included below that Committee's press release on the action they took today. I missed most of the live video webcast and to date no archived video record has been made available, so no detailed report.

Committee Sets Date for Digital Television Transition

Legislation will improve communications capacity for first responders, provide funding for converter box program

WASHINGTON - The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation that would accelerate the transition to digital television by setting a firm date for that transition to end. The committee approved the legislation in a convincing 33-17 vote.

"Thursday January 1, 2009 will be the day America goes all digital. The analog television signals that have come into our homes over the air since the birth of TV will end the night before, and a great technical revolution that has been in the making for years will finally be complete," said U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the committee.

In adopting a Dec. 31, 2008 date to end the transition, a clear majority of the Committee voted to pave the way for cutting-edge new television and wireless technology, while improving the communications capabilities of America's police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. The legislation will also include a program to fund digital-to-analog converter boxes so no one will be left behind in the transition.

"Enactment of this legislation by December would give us three years to prepare for the transition. It includes a strong consumer education measure. And it helps ensure that all consumers have continued access to broadcast programming, regardless of whether they use analog or digital televisions, or whether they watch television signals broadcast by a local station or subscribe to pay-TV," Barton said.

Setting a final date for TV stations to end their analog broadcasts will free up the nation's airwaves for public safety and new wireless services.

Ending the transition will open for auction the 700 MHz spectrum band, which is not only expected to raise $10 billion for the federal treasury, but will also free 60 Mhz of spectrum for next-generation wireless broadband service.

Additionally, freeing the analog spectrum band will allow Congress to honor its decade-old promise to give first responders 24 MHz of additional spectrum. This spectrum is ideal for interoperability, which will allow members of different public safety agencies to communicate with each other.

The legislation included an amendment from U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., that would create a $500 million fund for local first responders to purchase new communications equipment. Interoperability problems were evident during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and most recently during the response to Hurricane Katrina, and this legislation will not only help public safety agencies acquire state-of-the-art new radios, it will provide significant new spectrum capacity for this equipment.

The bill also includes a $990 million fund for a digital-to-analog converter box program, which will help consumers that rely on over-the-air television purchase equipment that converts digital signals back to analog. The Commerce Department's National Telecommunication Information Administration (NTIA) will administer the program, which will send up to two converter box coupons to any consumer that requests. The coupons can be taken to local retailers for a $40 discount on a converter box. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 15 million homes rely on over-the-air broadcasting.

Additionally, the bipartisan legislation would:

Obligate NTIA, broadcasters, cable operators, retailers, and television manufacturers engage in a consumer education campaign regarding the transition.

Require the FCC to complete a series of proceedings necessary to assign broadcasters final digital channel assignments.

Mandate all new televisions of 13 inches or more must include a digital tuner by March 1, 2007. The FCC deadline for larger sets is earlier. Television sets without digital tuners already in commerce must have warning labels regarding their inability to transmit digital television programming.

Require cable systems with a capacity greater than 550 MHz to transmit a standard definition version of a must-carry broadcast signal as well as an analog version of that signal for five years after the hard deadline. After five years, all cable systems must transmit whatever digital version of a station is sent to them by a broadcaster