Burns Bummed Over Powell Plan


Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) is the latest lawmaker to weigh in against a Federal Communications Commission plan to speed the digital-TV conversion.

Under the plan, local broadcasters' digital signals would count toward the day when the government can reclaim analog channels even when they are converted by cable systems to the same analog format they get today.

"I strongly urge you to reconsider," Burns wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Because the government plans to shut down broadcasters' analog channels when 85% of viewers are considered served by digital, the 15 million households that rely on analog over-the-air would "lose all access to television."

Theoretically, that has always been the case, Powell plan or no, but moving up the give-back date makes it far more imminent and thus alarming. That's because counting digital-to-analog cable service would trip the 85% trigger almost immediately, years before most expected and before most customers who rely solely on over-the-air service have bought digital TVs.
Suggestions that Congress should subsidize converters that will keep their old sets working have not been presented in a realistic way, he said. When it comes to delivering high-definition pictures and other new digital services, the plan would be of little help, he said. "Consumers will have no motivation to invest in digital television sets; programmers will have less incentive to produce compelling high-definition digital programming."