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Senate Considers Speeding Up Digital TV Transition

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Broadcasting's longest-running soap opera returned to Capitol Hill yesterday, as a key Senate committee again considered setting a firm date for the much-delayed transition to digital TV.

Witnesses from both industry and consumer groups impressed upon the Senate Commerce Committee the urgency of completing the DTV transition. In addition to mandating all-digital programming, the move would free up the 700 MHz analog spectrum for innovative wireless services and for emergency channels for first responders.

"700 MHz is the ideal frequency for providing wireless broadband in both rural and urban markets," said Charles C. Townsend, president of Aloha Partners, a major holder of the 700 MHz spectrum in the United States. "Not only can 700 MHz be used to provide high-speed Internet access, but it can also offer low-cost VOIP service for voice customers."

Nonetheless, senators seemed in little hurry to dramatically speed up the final transition, which would occur no later than January 1, 2009 under Congress' latest proposal. This late date is actually an improvement over current rules. Congress previously mandated that analog TV transmissions would end only after 85 percent of viewers in a local market could access a digital signal, a goal that could take a decade or more under current DTV adoption rates.

Hearing attendees appeared resigned that the end of analog TV would take years. Given that reality, witnesses urged senators to set a date in stone and stick to it.

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