House Panel Sets Late-2008 Digital TV Transition DateDate slightly out of sync with Senate committee decision.
Grant Gross, IDG News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C.-- A U.S. House of Representatives committee has set a 2008 deadline for U.S. television stations to switch to digital broadcasts. The deadline is about three months earlier than one set by a Senate committee a week ago.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee late Wednesday approved legislation setting December 31, 2008, as the date that broadcasters must switch to DTV (digital television) broadcasts, in order to transfer the upper 700-MHz radio frequency spectrum to emergency-response agencies and commercial wireless vendors.
"Thursday, January 1, 2009, will be the day America goes all digital," Representative Joe Barton (R- Texas) said in a statement. "The analog television signals that have come into our homes over the air since the birth of TV will end the night before, and a great technical revolution that has been in the making for years will finally be complete."
Senate Says Otherwise
On October 20, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved legislation with April 7, 2009 as the deadline. Analog TVs receiving signals over the air would no longer work after the transition unless they had converter boxes attached, and the April transition date would come after the National Football League's Super Bowl and the U.S. college basketball tournament, two popular television events.
Auctions of 60 MHz of the spectrum vacated by broadcasters is projected to raise at least $10 billion. A group of technology companies has been pressing for a firm deadline for the DTV transition, saying the new spectrum will be optimal for deploying next-generation wireless services.
The High Tech DTV Coalition, with 19 members including IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, praised the House committee's action. "We are gratified that there is bipartisan support of the high common ground of the hard date and confident that differences in implementation details will be worked through as this legislative process unfolds," said Janice Obuchowski, coalition executive director, in a statement.
Supporters of a hard deadline say first responders such as police and firefighters need additional spectrum to improve interoperability between the multiple emergency-response agencies in metropolitan areas. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the national 9/11 Commission recommended that emergency responders should have additional radio spectrum. In many cases, the multiple emergency-response agencies responding to the September 11 attacks couldn't communicate with each other because their radios operated on different spectrum bands.
Under current law broadcasters are required to give up their analog spectrum by the end of 2006, but only in television markets where 85 percent of homes can receive digital signals.
In December 1997 the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to reallocate some frequencies in the 700-MHz band to public safety and new commercial uses, in exchange for the digital spectrum TV stations received. Most television markets would never reach the 85 percent digital threshold now in law without a hard DTV deadline, critics say.
The next step for the House legislation would be a vote by the full House. If the differences in the House and Senate legislation remain after the full bodies approve them, then they would be ironed out in a conference committee made up of members of both bodies. After both bodies approve the compromise, the legislation would need to be signed by President George W. Bush to become law.
The House bill would appropriate $500 million for first-responder agencies to purchase new equipment, and $990 million for converter-box subsidies. TV owners could get a $40 rebate for a converter box, projected to cost between $50 and $70. The House relied on Congressional Budget Office estimates of 15 million U.S. homes with analog TV sets not hooked up to cable television service. Cable service can convert digital signals for use with analog TVs.
But some consumer groups have estimated that 80 million U.S. TVs would need converter boxes. The Senate's version of the DTV transition allocates $3 billion for converter-box subsidies.