30-day extension possible for DTV transition

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Posted by madcityradio.com on November 21, 2008 at 23:10:10:

30-day extension possible for digital TV transition

The transition of broadcast TV from analog to digital is scheduled for Feb. 17, 2009.

Efforts to extend that deadline have run into nothing but dead-ends, in part due to opposition from the Bush administration.

But the Bush administration, in a shift, now supports legislation providing for a 30-day extension, in order to provide public safety announcements and information about the digital TV transition, Multichannel.com reported Friday.

"It would be a helpful step, so I would encourage that passage," Meredith Attwell Baker, assistant commerce secretary for communications and information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), told Multichannel.

In early October, Baker told reporters she opposed extending analog broadcasting past Feb. 17.

Asked about her new position, Baker said: "My concern was a short period there would turn into a long period. We want to make sure the transition happens and it happens on Feb. 17 and that date doesn't get extended to Aug. 17."

The Senate on Thursday passed the bill (S. 3663) with the 30-day extension. Similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., is pending in the House, Multichannel said.

Last month, the National Association of Broadcasters unanimously adopted a resolution to support both bills.

"Coupled with our billion-dollar campaign to educate Americans on the digital TV transition, this timely legislation will give broadcasters one final resource to ensure that no TV viewer is left behind due to insufficient information," Dennis Wharton, NAB executive vice president, said in a statement Thursday.

On Feb. 17, all full-power analog TV stations must shut down, perhaps cutting off TV service to hundreds of thousands of homes that can't receive digital TV signals. Keeping analog stations on air for a month would assist those that could not or would not adequately prepare.

Baker's NTIA is in charging of running a $1.5 billion program to provide each household with two $40 coupons to use for the retail purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes. The boxes typically cost slightly more than $40.

Wilmington, N.C., was a test market in going digital on Sept. 8, but the analog signals remained on the air until Sept. 30, broadcasting the kind of information that would be mandated by the Capps-Rockefeller bills.

On Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin endorsed the analog extension bills, which some are calling DTV nightlight legislation.

"Trying to make sure there's a temporary time frame when broadcasters can continue to provide information about what's going on with the DTV transition would be helpful," Martin told Multichannel. "I think that was very helpful in the Wilmington transition, and I think that would be helpful going forward."

(Jeff Richgels, The Capital Times)

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