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Bush Aide Is Against Delay

10/03/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

A senior Bush administration official last Tuesday opposed a House bill that would delay recovery of old analog TV spectrum for two weeks to ensure that no one lost access to emergency communications around the time of the digital-TV transition next February.

“We feel that certainty is best at this point. Delay confuses consumers,” Assistant Commerce Secretary Meredith Attwell Baker said on a conference call with reporters. Baker runs Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

All full-power TV stations must turn off their analog TV signals on Feb. 17, 2009, and rely exclusively on their digital signals. Analog TV sets not connected to a pay TV service need to be hooked up to digital-to-analog converter boxes to keep working.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) introduced a bill (HR 7013) that would postpone the government’s takeback of analog TV spectrum from Feb. 18, 2009, to March 3, 2009. During that two-week period, over-the-air viewers who failed to make the digital transition would continue to have access to emergency weather and safety alerts on analog TV sets.

Capps, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a panel that oversees the Federal Communications Commission, wants the FCC to require analog stations that briefly remain on the air to broadcast DTV consumer-education material in both English and Spanish, an idea borrowed from the Sept. 8 DTV trial in Wilmington, N.C.

“I think the idea [for the Capps bill] originated out of the Wilmington test,” National Association of Broadcasters president David Rehr said. “It seemed to be a pretty good idea. We’re taking a look at the bill. Our board meeting is coming up in a week or two. We’re going to have the TV board talk about it and then we’ll have a public position.”

Last Wednesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a similar bill (S. 3663), except that analog signals would be available for 30 days after the transition.

The FCC and NTIA are leading the federal government’s consumer-education campaign. NTIA is supervising a $1.5 billion converter-box subsidy program.

“We want to use all of our energy to make people aware and act now,” Baker said regarding consumer acquisition of $40 converter-box coupons available to all households under the program.

The Capps bill was the first to call for briefly delaying the federal government’s legally mandated recovery of all analog TV spectrum on Feb. 17, 2009. Much of the spectrum has already been auctioned for billions of dollars to AT&T and Verizon.

NTIA also opposed a request from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) to reissue coupons to consumers who failed to act within the 90-day expiration window. NTIA has said the federal DTV-transition law won’t permit that.

As of Sept 24, NTIA had mailed 26.7 million coupons, and 10.8 million had been redeemed, according to NTIA’s Web site.

September