Bill supports 9-year limit on analog TV

WASHINGTON — Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would turn into law an FCC policy aimed at forcing broadcasters to give their current channels back in 2006.

McCain’s bill would effectively codify the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to set a nine-year limit on the transition period from the current analog TV standard to the digital standard. It would also dramatically increase the pressure on broadcasters to make the transition to digital service at an accelerated rate. While the FCC endorsed the 2006 deadline, it promised to review progress of the digital transition every two years.

Both the FCC and McCain are counting on broadcasters and consumers to invest in digital TV technology before the digital deadline. Congressional budget negotiators also are counting on the return of the channels in 2006 so they can be sold at a spectrum auction with the revenue earmarked for deficit reduction.

McCain’s bill would also force broadcasters in the 10 largest markets to begin a digital broadcast service by May 1, 1999. The FCC endorsed a similar policy last month.

In a separate action, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) plans to introduce his bill that would bar broadcasters from making the transition to digital unless they implement a content-based program rating system. Like many in Congress, Coats is not satisfied with the current TV code, which he says does not provide specific information about a show’s sexual and violent content.

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