Digital Transistion Date Will Stick, Staffers Say

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Despite a few caveats, Key House and Senate legislative staffers predicted Tuesday that the digital transition date of February 2009 will "stick."

Those predictions were made at a Maximum Service Television conference in Washington Tuesday.

Lisa Sutherland, staff director for Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens was the most definitive, while Johanna Shelton, minority counsel to the House Energy & Commerce Committee offered the largest caveat. She said there remains a lot of hard work to be done, and was particularly concerned with the digital-to-analog converter box subsidy.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) has been given only $5 million for an education campaign to let viewers know of the coming switch from analog to digital. "If NTIA does the converter box program on the cheap, it will get a transition on the cheap, she said.

There was less certainty about the fate of the franchise reform bill now stuck in the Senate. The bill is being blocked over the issue of network neutrality, and Sutherland was not ready to predict its fate in the lame duck session when Congress returns in November, though she it was stalled now and pointed out that "a lot will depend on the election. If one or both Houses were to change control "certainly that changes the dynamic."

James Assey, minority counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee agreed that the election could change things.

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