NAB: Analog cutoff could disenfranchise viewers

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Forcing TV stations to return analog spectrum at the end of 2006 would
"disenfranchise millions of viewers and would do irreparable damage to free,
over-the-air broadcasting," National Association of Broadcasters TV Board
chairman Michael Fiorile told lawmakers Wednesday.

The main trade group for TV stations attacked a key provision of "discussion"
legislation floated by House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders that would
seize frequencies used for traditional analog signals regardless of how many
viewers have switched to digital TV.

Current law calls for spectrum to be returned no later than Dec. 31, 2006, but
it doesn't force a return until 85 percent of any station's market is digital-TV-capable.
As a result of the penetration test, the actual date the government can expect
to receive returned spectrum is open-ended.

Setting a hard date for spectrum return is a goal of the wireless industry
and public-safety officials, both of which have future rights to use some of the
TV channels that will be returned. But cutting off analog signals before most
viewers have switched to digital will eliminate their access to TV, Fiorile said
during a House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing on digital TV.

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) didn't like the
prospect of angry TV viewers. "This transition is on a collision course with
consumers, and we must act now to turn things around," he said. He asked industry
for a "third choice" to the alternatives of cutting off viewers or leaving the
issue unresolved.

The NAB also insisted that cable systems carry the free portion of any local
station's multicast lineup. Cable opposes multicast mandates as a violation of
its free-speech rights and an encroachment on capacity that could be used for
new cable networks.

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