Farmers Plant Doubts About DTV Plan

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Corn and soybean growers have now weighed in at the Federal Communications Commission against the so-called Ferree plan for speeding the digital transition.

That plan would insure that 85% of TV households in any market could receive a TV signal before, and after, the FCC started reclaiming analog spectrum, but that signal would not have to be digital. Instead, it could be a digital signal converted to analog and delivered over cable. With that wiggle room, the FCC says the analog spectrum can be returned by 2009. Without it, FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said, it could take decades.

Critics point out that the plan takes much of the digital out of the digital conversion. Those receiving a "digital" broadcast converted in analog would not be getting the benefit of a better picture, or access to high-definition, or any multicast digital services.

In a meeting with Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, the American Corn Growers Association and the Soybean Producers of America, joined by some unions and others, argued that the impact of a hard date for cut-off of analog service will adversely impact rural communities with less access to cable. They also argue that the switch to digital must include a multicast must-carry requirement to insure that farmers get access to crucial weather information services.

They cited as one of those services NBC's just-launched multicast digital weather network, which can deliver continuously updated local weather info.

This isn't the first time the corn growers have weighed in on the digital transition. Two years ago, the association came out against a digital-tuner mandate, though at the time its executives weren't sure why. This time, they have no such doubt.

For farmers, a weather broadcasts is far more than a guide to the day's attire or recreational plans. It is a key piece of business information that affects all their livelihoods. The topic of farm broadcasting in the digital age is likely to be a hot one at this week's National Association of Farm Broadcasters Convention in Kansas City.

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