House Takes Up DTV Hard Date

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The House Telecommunications Subcommittee will hold a hearing Feb. 17 on "The Role of Technology in Achieving a Hard Deadline for the DTV Transition."

Back in October, the NAB and other broadcasters told the FCC they would be willing to agree, with some important caveats, to a specific deadline, though one of those caveats was  that the FCC grant carriage of all a broadcasters digital channels, which the FCC last week declined to do.

No date was actually suggested, but the broadcasters said they would “work with Congress and regulators to develop a specific DTV transition plan in the coming months."

Among the panelists at the hearing, according to a source, will be Barrington Broadcasting CEO and former NAB Joint Board Chairman Jim Yager.

The government, both the FCC and Congress, have been under pressure to reclaim broadcasters' analog spectrum for use by new wireless services and emergency communications. Both 2006 and 2009 have been offered up as possible end dates, depending on how the DTV switch is defined as having been achieved.

The FCC Thursday issued the recommendations of a task force on speeding wireless broadband that included accelerating "the transition of the digital television (DTV) spectrum for advanced wireless services and public safety."

Without a hard deadline, many, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell, argue the transition could take decades. Powell's suggestion of speeding the give-back date would be to define as DTV-capable any households that receive a DTV signal that has been converted to analog by a cable system. He has also been high on so-called "smart" devices that could intuitively make more efficient use of the spectrum.

Broadcasters have insisted the FCC drop the idea of counting nearly all cable subscribers as receiving local DTV stations. They say counting cable's “down converted” digital signals will let cable operators drag their feet in offering true digital pictures to their customers and could potentially disenfranchise millions of  over-the-air viewers..

The broadcast industry, in its October filing, also said it wants any hard DTV completion date to exempt broadcasters facing technical problems that prevent them from going digital. --Bill McConnell contributed to this report.

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