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Broadcasters getting sympathy on Hill - Broadcasting & Cable

Broadcasters getting sympathy on Hill

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Capitol Hill appears to be warming to broadcaster pleas for help with the
digital-TV transition.

If comments Wednesday from a key lawmaker and aides to other influential
members of Congress are any indication, sympathy for broadcasters could
translate into legislative mandates on other industries to spur consumer
acceptance of the new technology.

'The digital-television transition is my No. 1 issue,' Rep. Fred Upton
(R-Mich.) told the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) in
Washington, D.C. Upton chairs the House Telecommunications and Internet
Subcommittee.

'As I talk to my local broadcasters, I know the millions of dollars they have
spent to meet the deadline,' Upton said.

Lawmakers have joined the FCC in asking other industry groups to remove
several hurdles to consumer demand for digital sets, including the lack of
cable-compatible digital-TV sets, copy-protection standards and cable-carriage
agreements for digital-TV channels.

The proliferation of digital-TV sets without receivers for broadcast signals
also alarms station owners.

Lawmakers' new attitude has reversed in the past 18 months.

During the first hearings on the digital-TV logjam in July 2000, former House
Commerce and Energy Committee chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.) charged that
station owners' 'cold feet' was the main threat to the digital-TV
transition.

Now, his successor, Louisianan Republican Billy Tauzin, is giving serious
consideration to broadcaster proposals long opposed by either the cable or
consumer-electronics industries, including mandated digital receivers in all TV
sets and cable-compatible TVs.

Upton has not given up hope that industry negotiators can solve the problem
without government intervention.

But 'Fred is feeling increasingly that Congress may have to step in,' Upton
aide Will Norwind said. 'Everything is on the table.'

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