Congress Continues Debate Over Digital TV Bills

Criticism of digital TV House and Senate bills continues as elected officials argue over the level of money needed to subsidize the change for consumers, and the timing of the change from analog to digital signals.

Yesterday, Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was critical that a 2009 conversion date wouldn't be possible. He also said there wasn't enough Federal subsidized money set aside to give to consumers to purchase analog-to-digital converters.

A House bill has marked down $830 million in subsidies, while a Senate version of the bill would put aside $3 billion in subsidies. Many Congressional members--mostly Democrats--complain that many TV consumers--especially low-income and minority TV users, perhaps some 21 million homes--would need a $60 set-top converter box.

Even then, middle-income households--two, three, or four TV set households--would also need some converters, since in most cases only one home TV set is digital. An estimated 130 million TV sets are still analog--those sets will still be in use by the time the proposed switch to digital occurs.



While Markey criticizes the start date of January 2009, others want a faster turnaround. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to move up the date to possibly 2007, or even late 2006.

The rush comes from Republicans pushing to give so-called 'first responders'--emergency officials--all the analog spectrum that would be given up by broadcasters. With the full analog signals at their disposal, emergency officials could more easily communicate with each other in times of emergency. Communication breakdowns have been major problems for first responders when dealing with the 9/11 and more recent hurricane disasters.

Next story loading loading..