Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) are urging Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell to back down from his plans to take back TV stations' analog channels by 2009.
"We implore you to postpone until further congressional hearings and discussion," the two lawmakers wrote. Powell said he wants the FCC to vote on his plan to declare that TV households are receiving digital service from cable even when operators are only dumbing down a broadcaster's digital signal to analog.
By defining DTV service that way, Powell will accelerate the day the U.S. reaches the congressionally set 85% penetration test that will trigger shut off of old analog signals.
At that time stations will be required to return the channels to the government. If the government waits for 85% of Americans to buy DTV sets or buy digital pay-TV service, it could take another decade or more to regain the old analog signals.
Boucher and Pallone are running counter to prevailing sentiment in Congress, where most seem to want to auction the channels or hand them over to local public safety departments much sooner.
Broadcasters don't like the plan because they would be required to give up their analog channels long before viewers are equipped to receive high-definition pictures or over-the-air multicast channels that digital allows them to offer.
Also, the FCC hasn't decided what to do about the 15% of Americans that don't currently subscribe to pay-TV and could lose TV altogether if they don't subscribe or buy an expensive digital set. Boucher also argues it would be wrong to render obsolete the tens of millions of secondary sets that Americans have never bothered to hook up to pay-TV.