Fresh from Memorial Day break, Congress this week tries to get a grip on the DTV transition. Wednesday the House Commerce Committee grills FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree over his plan to speed the transition to digital TV.
His controversial idea would work by counting all cable subscribers as “digital” viewers, even ones who can’t see DTV programs unless the shows have been “dumbed-down” to analog.
Ferree’s idea would ensure broadcasters return their old analog channels to the government by roughly 2009, probably a decade or so earlier than waiting for Americans to buy DTVs in numbers big enough to trip the 85% penetration test that triggers the analog takeback.
A handful of lawmakers have openly opposed Ferree’s idea because many viewers wouldn’t see high-definition pictures or get other DTV benefits. Leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, however, have been “reserving judgment” until they learn more.
Also on Capitol Hill this week, two of the four committees that must vote to renew satellite carriers’ right to import out-of-town broadcast networks into local markets are expected to finally pass the legislation Thursday.
Satellite companies and some activist groups have been pushing for an amendment to that bill that would allow DBS services to import HDTV signals to subscribers who can’t receive them from their local broadcaster, just as the company’s are now allowed to import distant network signals to subscribers who can’t get a local network affiliate.