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McCain Blasts Broadcasters For DTV Delays

WASHINGTON, D.C. -Agitated by broadcasters’ apparent lethargy in transitioning to digital television broadcasting, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused station owners of pulling “a classic bait and switch” scam on the U.S. Congress.

McCain, who chaired a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing on the DTV transition, said broadcasters have dragged their feet on using the free spectrum granted them by Congress to begin digital broadcasting. He reiterated his feeling that broadcasters have, in effect, benefited from a $70 billion giveaway and still show little urgency in returning their old analog channels to help reduce the national debt.

“There’s not a snowball’s chance in Gila Bend, Ariz.,” that all 1,600 U.S. broadcast stations will be transmitting digitally by the mandated 2002 timetable, said McCain, and “no one believes broadcasters are going to be able to reach 85 percent of American homes by 2006.” That’s when the analog spectrum is to be returned and auctioned off to the highest bidder.

A wide range of suggestions was raised during the hearing to spur the transition process. Some called for broadcasters to be charged rent for the analog channels still used after 2006 (a suggestion offered by former FCC Chairman William Kennard), while representatives from the National Association of Broadcasters urged the adoption of rules mandating that digital tuners be placed in all television sets (another Kennard suggestion).

However, Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro released a statement denouncing such a measure, saying that the action “could add hundreds of dollars to the cost of almost every television set, pricing many lower-income Americans out of the market and severely slowing the DTV transition.”

CEA maintained that broadcasters should be compelled to produce more HDTV programming, that cable systems be required to carry that programming, and that any new copy-protection solutions protect non-commercial home recording rights.