Lawmakers Concerned About 2006 DTV Bill


Las Vegas -- Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and several House members Monday expressed strong opposition to cutting off analog broadcasting at the end of 2006 when millions of consumers still don’t have the ability to view digital signals.

“I’ve got to protect my people in the state of Montana, because there will be a lot of televisions turned off,” Burns said. “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t turn off a lot of television sets in America whenever we make this conversion.”

Burns, addressing the National Association of Broadcasters convention here, said the Senate “might” look at a House-passed bill but indicated that there was little Senate enthusiasm for passing a bill ending the transition at the end of next year.

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he did not believe that the opposition had the strength to block his digital-TV-transition bill, which he expects to introduce in a few weeks.

“We have the votes in the House. We have the votes in the committee. If we can get it to the floor of the Senate without a filibuster, I think we’ve got the votes in the Senate,” Barton told reporters later.

Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) argued that because millions of analog-TV sets won’t work if they don’t have set-top boxes or pay TV connections, consumers would hammer Congress for failing to look after their interests.

“I don’t want to be the one in my office on New Year’s Day of 2007 when everybody starts calling saying, ‘Why did you turn off my TV?’” Walden said. “I think it’s going to be real trouble if we go down that path.”

Engel added, “If they turn on their sets and get a blank picture, our political careers will be a blank picture. I don’t think we should have a premature date certain. I worry about it a great deal. I think we need to be more realistic.”

Barton said he would be willing to set a later deadline, but he opposed adding on several years.

House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) indicated that the legislation would likely permit cable operators to convert broadcast digital-TV signals to analog at the headend, provided that cable companies continue to carry TV-station signals offered in HD.

“I happen to believe that the conversion at the headend is probably preferable,” Upton said. “That will prevent us from getting a set-top box for all of the different analog sets that are out there.”

Barton said it was unclear now whether the bill would require cable to carry multiple programming services that broadcasters provide to over-the-air viewers at no charge.

“That’s a debatable proposition. There could be, and there also could not be,” he added.