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NAB pushes for DTV transition deadline

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The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and a broad coalition of broadcasters are looking at a hard date for completing the DTV transition, provided certain terms are met. Broadcasters could consider a 2009 date if cable systems transmit broadcasters' full digital signals and meet certain other conditions, a broadcast source said.

In a recent filing, the coalition of broadcasters said the plan being considered at the FCC to switch to digital by 2009 is a useful starting point but must be reformed. The real driver of the hard date is when the consumer is ready to adopt DTV sets, said the Association for Maximum Service Television, Inc (MSTV) president David Donovan. The FCC could grant waivers to licensees, such as stations in N.Y.C., that can't make the hard date due to factors beyond their control and where the issues involve technical problems in neighboring markets, the broadcast source said. Broadcasters hope to work with Congress and regulators in the coming months to develop a specific DTV transition plan.

The CE industry believes "there should be a hard date" for the switchoff of analog TV service and will promote that position in future filings at the FCC, CEA president Gary Shapiro told a N.Y.C. news conference last week. Shapiro said CEA hadn't reached consensus on what that hard date should be, but LG-Zenith and Thomson executives say the CEA was likely to propose 2009. David Arland, Thomson vice-president corporate communications, said whatever hard date consensus was reached, it was important to set such a deadline once and for all as a necessary step for achieving economies of scale that would make future DTV sets affordable for the masses.

Shapiro said CEA is continuing to formulate its policy position on what to do with the 15% of legacy consumers who won't have converted to DTV at the analog turnoff. For example, he remained somewhat noncommittal on the question of whether CE would seek or accept the idea of equipment subsidies for low-income families toward the purchase of DTV receivers. He said he has told Capitol Hill audiences that the CE industry has never sought subsidies for its products.

In their filing, the coalition, which included the NAB, the big 4 network affiliates and others -- said cable systems should be required to transmit the broadcaster's full digital signal from the headend by the end of the DTV transition and either provide for down-conversion in subscriber homes with analog sets or send a down-converted version for the homes with analog sets subject to transitional carriage rules. The filing said the FCC's plan to convert 85% of consumers' TV sets to digital by 2009 is a useful starting point but must be reformed. The FCC plan would count toward the 85% anyone with a DTV set, a digital-to-analog converter and or a cable or satellite set-top box that can down-convert or pass through a broadcaster's digital signal. Satellite operators shouldn't be permitted to down-convert, or degrade, a digital signal at the headend, as the FCC plan proposes, the group said.

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