McCain: Don’t Forget Off-Air-Only Viewers


Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that a federal plan to end the digital-TV transition should not abandon consumers who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite.

A Federal Communications Commission staff plan would likely end the transition Jan. 1, 2009, but the plan does not propose a solution for millions of analog-TV sets that would become useless at that time.

“We must not leave these consumers out in the digital cold,” McCain said. "Let me be clear that any proposal to accelerate the digital-television transition is incomplete unless it ensures that consumers may continue to use their existing television sets to view over-the-air broadcast signals."

John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, agreed in testimony before McCain’s panel.

“We can’t just turn off these people’s analog sets,” Lawson said. “We must give the consumer a simple and inexpensive pathway to go digital. Some subsidies may be necessary.”

The FCC plan, crafted by Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree and key aides, would leave it to Congress to decide how to accommodate consumers who had not purchased digital-TV receivers or analog-to-digital set-tops.

In his testimony, Ferree indicated that market forces may be sufficient to address the problem.

“All of the industries have a vested interest in making sure that all of those TVs continue to work -- not just the broadcasters, but the cable operators and the satellite operators want those TVs to work, the advertisers want those TVs to work. Nobody wants to see those go dark,” Ferree said.