Digital makes a date

Senate panel: Analog must go by April 2009

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday set a hard date of April 7, 2009, for broadcasters to switch to digital and turn over their analog broadcast spectrum to the feds.

The spectrum will be auctioned and could raise more than $10 billion. The committee earmarked $3 billion of that to pay for converter boxes so old TV sets would still work after the switch.

The vote, a victory for the NAB, defeated an amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who wanted the transition to digital a full two years earlier, by April 2007.

The DTV bill now goes to the full Senate for discussion.

Committee will start talking about crucial must-carry provisions next week. The thorny issue of mandatory carriage by cabler operators of broadcasters’ multicast signals was pulled into a separate bill from the spectrum issue.

The committee also approved the Truth in Broadcasting Act of 2005, which requires that video news releases produced by a government agency be labeled as such.

The act, sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), specifies that any video news release paid for by the government must identify the agency that produced the video.

The measure comes in the wake of numerous scandals involving video produced by a government agency but passed off by local stations and even CNN as legitimate news.

Unattributed video news releases were widely used by the Bush Administration’s Dept. of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. Video was distributed to local stations complete with a “reporter” discussing the act’s virtues.

The same department had commentator Armstrong Williams on its payroll, a fact Williams did not disclose in his writings and appearances.

(Michael Learmonth contributed to this report.)

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