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Markey Says DTV Rules Present 'Fuzzy' Picture

House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) says the new DTV converter box subsidy rules issued Monday by the Bush administration is likely to be confusing.

Markey says the National Telecommunications & Information Administration has "unwittingly restored a fuzzy picture to the digital TV transition."

He was referring to the decision to make only two-thirds of the money for converter boxes available to all households with analog-only TV's, with the other third restricted to households that have not other kind--i.e. DTV sets or ones hooked up to cable--including telco cable--or satellite.

"Keeping the government and affected industries on target for the February 2009 transition date is a goal widely shared," said Markey in a statement, but then said the NTIA approach was off the mark. "The Bush Administration, appears to have unwittingly restored a fuzzy picture to the digital TV transition," he said. 

"The proposed plan, however, arbitrarily limits consumer eligibility for the program after the first $990 million is spent," he said. 

The funding is actually divided into an initial $1 billion, less administrative costs, with the second $500 million only available if it is needed.

That approach, said Markey, "is likely to increase consumer confusion about who is eligible for coupons and when they are eligible.

"The Administration is evidently limiting the program in this way because of concern that sufficient funding to cover all consumers who need boxes may not be available. 

"Last year, the Administration opposed efforts by Full Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and myself that would have removed this concern by ensuring adequate funding for the program."

"The Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee intends to review this and other aspects of the Administration's plan in upcoming hearings to ensure that consumer welfare is adequately protected and that the digital TV transition remains on track."

The committee has already announced plans for an NTIA oversight hearing, where NTIA head John Kneuer will have to defend the plan to Markey and Dingell.