Under pressure from NAB lobbyists, the Senate Commerce Committee decided against setting a hard deadline for television broadcasters to air only digital signals. At stake was an FCC-recommended provision that would set 2009 as the deadline for the DTV transition.
Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), had pushed for the hard deadline in part because he wanted public safety groups to get some of the airwaves to solve problems they have had with their communications.
Critics said the committee's approved legislation could allow broadcasters to delay the move indefinitely.
The Commerce Committee approved an NAB-backed proposal by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), a former broadcaster, which would take channels 63, 64, 68 and 69 from broadcasters on Jan. 1, 2008. There are 75 television stations around the country that would be affected by the plan, including the CBS affiliate in Detroit and the UPN affiliate in Atlanta.
However, McCain was highly critical of the proposal because it included language which allowed broadcasters to hold on to the spectrum if the FCC determines that taking it from stations would result in consumer disruption. He said the loosely defined “consumer disruption” was in effect a loophole.
Broadcasters could claim that the loss of their signal would cause disruption, even though more than 85 percent of households get their TV signals via cable or satellite, he said. The chairman said he doubted the Burns measure would advance far in its current form in part because it did not guarantee public safety groups would get the airwaves by 2008.
McCain is pushing his own proposal, which would set a firm deadline of Dec. 31, 2008, for television stations to give up one of the two television channels they now control. In 1996, every station in the country was given a second channel to make the transition to digital TV.