Broadcastingcable.com has learned that TV-set makers Wednesday will conditionally endorse the Federal Communications Commission's controversial plan to speed the digital-TV transition during a hearing on Capitol Hill. The conditions for the endorsement would be tougher obligations on cable operators.
In addition, at least one senior committee member is expected to endorse the plan.
That plan, developed under Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree's leadership, would count all cable subscribers as digitally served by local broadcasters, even if they don't have a digital set and their only access to local station's digital broadcasts are cable signals that have been "downconverted" to analog.
The FCC's plan would let nearly all cable customers be considered digitally served almost immediately. A 1997 law states that broadcasters must return their old analog channels to the government when 85% of U.S. homes are considered capable of receiving a station's DTV signal.
In most markets, the result of the FCC plan would obligate broadcast stations to return their old analog channels to the feds at the government's discretion. Ferree previously has suggested that 2009 would likely be the earliest giveback date.
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said the his group would be OK with the FCC plan as long as the agency sets a deadline for making cable stop downconverting and begin transmitting broadcast high-definition pictures and other digital features. Also, cable must transmit all V-Chip, Spanish language and other program-related side information that accompanies the primary TV picture and audio, CEA will say.