White House Disses DTV Subsidy

The White House said it would rather light a fire under broadcasters with an analog-spectrum fee than create a fund to buy digital converter boxes for those who might be left out in the transition.

That message came in a letter to Hill conferees on a wide ranging national security bill that includes provisions for speeding the return of  a particular swath of analog TV spectrum (ch. 62-69) for emergency communications use.

The FCC has suggested that one way for the government to speed the transition to DTV is to subsidize DTV converter boxes for those still without DTV sets or cable/satellite hookups when the government starts reclaiming the analog spectrum.

The Bush administration last year proposed a $500 million tax on broadcasters who had not converted by the beginning of 2007, but it was declared DOA by powerful members of Congress.

In a letter to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Me.) Monday, the White House reiterated that call in opposing a "Digital Transition Consumer Assistance Fund" in the bill, saying: Creating a billion dollar fund to subsidize consumer electronics such as digital converter boxes, high definition televisions, and the installation of cable and satellite services is not necessary to achieve the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. The Administration has proposed an analog spectrum fee on broadcasters to encourage faster return of analog TV spectrum. This proposal would facilitate public safety access to spectrum in a timely fashion without generating budgetary costs."

But even if it did speed the return, that would not not address the issue of those who can't receive a digital signal, either over the air or via cable or satellite, when that return happens.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.