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Congressional action may not be necessary to accelerate digital TV transition

WASHINGTON-Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the new chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said Thursday that Congress may not need to act to accelerate the digital TV transition.

“Another provision in Title I would require the Federal Communications Commission to propose to Congress by Dec. 31, 2005, a model for determining who would be unserved by over-the-air digital signals as of Dec. 31, 2006, the target date for the completion of the DTV transition and for turning off analog broadcasts. This is just a report, and Congress need not act if doing so would still be premature in light of the status of the transition at that time,” said Barton in a written statement.

TV broadcasters were given an extra channel (6 megahertz) of spectrum to convert to digital. After the transition, that spectrum is to be divided between public-safety (24 megahertz) and commercial (36 megahertz) users. A guard band of 6 megahertz has already been auctioned to band managers, but the 30 megahertz for commercial uses has yet to be auctioned.

The broadcasters must give back their extra spectrum by Dec. 31, 2006, or when 85 percent of the homes in their viewing areas are capable of receiving digital signals, whichever is later.

Barton appeared only briefly at Thursday’s hearing of the House telecommunications subcommittee on a staff discussion draft of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Reauthorization Act of 2004.

Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) said a goal of the House telecommunications subcommittee should be to protect free-over-the-air TV.

Robert Lee, president and general manager of WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., representing the National Association of Broadcasters, said only a handful of stations have not turned on their digital signals.

“There are still a handful of stations that have not been able to go to full power or their permanent channel allocation due to issues with Canada,” Lee told the subcommittee.

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