Washington -- Federal Communications Commission Democrat Michael Copps on Friday said support is building to allow TV stations to transmit on analog channels critical DTV education and public safety messages after the national transition to digital television on Feb. 17, 2009.
"I haven't met anyone who doesn't think it's a good idea. But, as you know, Washington can sometimes be the place where a good idea goes to die. We can't let that happen here. The stakes are too high," Copps said in the speech in Denver.
House and Senate bills have been introduced that would alter the current transition plan, which is to require every full power TV station to shut off its analog signal no later than Feb. 17 at midnight.
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) want some of the stations to remain on the air in analog, if only to broadcast information about the DTV transition, such as how to obtain digital analog converter boxes, and to ensure consumer access to emergency information for a limited period of time.
Full-power TV stations in Wilmington, N.C., broadcast such information until Sept. 30 after discontinuing regular programming on their analog signals on Sept. 8
"We did just that in Wilmington and it proved very effective. Over 80% of the calls from troubled consumers were made to the toll-free number provided in the analog on-screen message," Copps said.
Assistant Commerce Secretary Meredith Attwell Baker, who is running the federal government's $1.5 billion DTV converter box coupon program, has said she opposed the legislation.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin said he thought the availability of some analog services post transition was a "good idea" but that he was unsure the FCC had the legal authority to force TV stations to use their analog airwaves after Feb. 17.
Some of the analog channels have been auctioned for billions of dollars to wireless broadband providers, who are not expecting delays in obtaining access to the airwaves.
"I'm not sure we have the ability to end up requiring [broadcasters to use their analog signals] nor to end up not giving over the spectrum to the people who have won the spectrum at auction," Martin said on Wednesday.