Congress Settles for DTV Resolution

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Congress is expected to approve a nonbinding resolution soon calling for passage of legislation next year that would end the digital-television transition as early as Dec. 31, 2006.

The resolution -- contained in intelligence legislation expected to gain final passage this week -- weakened Senate-approved legislation that called for the return of 24 megahertz of analog-TV spectrum by 2008 if certain conditions were met.

In a related move, Congress also dropped a Senate provision that required the Federal Communications Commission to decide by the end of the year whether cable companies had to carry multiple digital-TV services transmitted by local digital-TV stations, according to congressional and industry sources.

Congress is expected to adjourn later this week after passing a $388 billion spending bill and the intelligence-reform package, which is designed to carry out the recommendations of the national commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The panel urged Congress to find spectrum for emergency-response units.

Among other things, the budget bill includes satellite-TV legislation that gives EchoStar Communications Corp. 18 months to ensure that customers in 38 markets do not need second dishes to receive all of their local-TV signals.

The bill also ensures that 2 million satellite customers continue to receive out-of-market feeds of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox programming for five more years.

On digital TV, the text of the “sense of Congress” resolution explained that public-safety groups urgently needed more spectrum while noting that the return of some, but not all, analog spectrum would be unfair to about 75 TV stations that were forced to vacate and to their viewers who had yet to obtain digital-receiving equipment.

Instead, the resolution calls for a comprehesive digital-TV transition that involves all 1,748 TV stations and that sets Dec. 31, 2006, as the target date for the return of the analog spectrum.

Congress wants to use the analog spectrum -- 108 MHz in all -- not just for public safety but also for allocation to wireless-broadband companies in an auction expected to raise billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.