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Broadcasters Counter Ferree TV

Network affiliates and two top broadcast trade groups Thursday complained to the Federal Communications Commission about its still-developing plan to speed the digital-TV transition.

They also offered agency chairman Michael Powell their own alternative for moving the switch from analog along.

The broadcasters' counteroffer includes long-standing demands for carriage of the multiple channels that digital technology allows, and insisting that only viewers who get a complete digital signal count toward the 85% penetration trigger for government reclamation of analog spectrum (if the viewers themselves choose to dumb down the DTV signal to keep an old analog set running, that could also qualify).

By contrast, the plan being shopped around Washington by Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree for the past six weeks or so would "thwart Congress's main purpose for the transition, which was to assure universal availability of digital services to the American public," lawyers for affiliates of the Big Four nets, NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television told Powell in a letter.

Under Powell's order, Ferree wants to count nearly all customers toward the 85% DTV penetration test necessary to reclaim broadcasters old analog channels, even when cable systems have to dumb down stations' digital signal to analog (see 'Sachs' story, this page).

Broadcasters hate the idea because they would have to give up their analog channels before most cable subscribers get a digital signal, and suggested that the plan is illegal. They say Congress forbids cable systems from degrading broadcasters signals and has declared that only homes capable of receiving a true digital signal count toward the 85% test.

Ferree, however, has countered that no broadcasters would be forced to accept cable down-conversion.