US lawmakers mull move to speed switchover

Prominent US lawmakers yesterday hinted they might introduce a bill to speed up digital switchover. Under current laws, analogue television signals cannot be switched off until 85% of US households can receive digital television. The hope was that figure could be reached by December 2006, but so far only 12% of homes have digital receivers.

At a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday, chairman Joe Barton and fellow Republican Representative Fred Upton said they might seek to harden the 2006 deadline and scrap the 85% provision. In order to achieve that, they said Congress would have to subsidise the cost of digital converters for many of the 21m homes - 19% of total US households - that only receive free, analogue terrestrial television.

According to official US data half of those 21m homes have incomes under $30,000. Converter boxes could each cost up to $100, indicating a government subsidy programme of between $460m and $2bn depending on the number of boxes to be subsidised, and income limits.

Said Upton: "If Congress did nothing, those households which rely exclusively on over-the-air television services could see their television sets 'go dark' at the end of the digital television transitiom." Barton suggested using cash forecast to be raised from the sale of the liberated spectrum to pay for converter subsidies.

As the Associated Press reported, the subsidy programme could swell to up to $10.6bn if it was extended to subsidise converter boxes for analogue cable and satellite pay-TV services.

Lovelacemedia  |  18.02.2005

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