House Passes Digital-TV Bill

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Washington— The House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill to end analog-TV broadcasting at the end of 2008 without awarding extra cable-carriage rights to digital-TV signals.

In addition to setting a hard date for the digital transition, the House bill would provide a net $830 million to subsidize set-top boxes to keep analog-TV sets working mainly in homes that do not subscribe to cable or satellite.

The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate bill, which included $3 billion for set-tops and an April 7, 2009, analog cutoff.

Although the National Association of Broadcasters pressed lawmakers to require cable carriage of multicast digital-TV services, both chambers have so far declined to do so.

Under the House bill, high-capacity cable systems would be required to carry TV stations that elect mandatory carriage in analog and digital for the first five years after the transition.

If those stations are sending out an HD signal, they would be guaranteed only standard definition from cable.

Cable systems with 550 Megahertz or less have a different carriage obligation: For the first five years, they are authorized to carry digital TV signals in analog only.

In a statement Thursday, the White House declared support for the House bill, but indicated continued concern about set-top subsidies.

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