Barton to Get Earful on DTV

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Industry executives and consumer activists will be full of ideas on improving House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton's draft legislation to speed the DTV transition when they testify at the panel's hearing Thursday.

Broadcaster Jim Yager, testifying on behalf of the NAB, is expected to call on lawmakers to make a TV station-friendly provision regarding cable carriage even friendlier.

A measure that would increase the likelihood that cable operators will be obligated to offer "dual must-carry" to broadcasters can be made even stronger, Yager is expected to say. Yager is CEO of Barrington Broadcasting.

That measure--designed to generate broadcaster support for the bill's primary purpose of accelerating the day when stations must shut off old analog signals--would require a cable operator to carry both the analog and digital signals of all local broadcasters in a market if it offers dual carriage to one. Otherwise, must-carry stations are entitled only to digital carriage.

Stations that have negotiated retransmission contracts for cable carriage, typically affiliates of the Big Four networks, would not trigger the carry-one, carry-all provision. Yager is expected to urge elimination of the loophole.   

Consumer activist Gene Kimmelman is expected to ask Congress to insist that broadcasters dedicate one of their multicast channels to a public access channel similar to PEG channels offered by cable. Kimmelman is senior director for public policy for Consumers Union.

The idea is opposed by broadcasters, in part because they don't want to be responsible for possible indecency violations that users of the channels could expose them to.

"We don't want to be licensees of channels with dancing penises on them," said one broadcaster, a reference to to an FCC fine of KRON(TV) San Francisco for a newscast covering “Puppetry of the Penis” (one of the "puppets" appeared on camera).

Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro is expected to ask Barton to drop a measure that would accelerate the deadline for installing digital tuners in nearly all TV sets to July 1, 2006, one year earlier than current FCC regulation requires.

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