Congress, FCC debate analog-to-digital date

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WASHINGTON -- A tug of war over the date when America switches off the signal to millions of analog TV sets and forces the populace to adopt digital TV is brewing between Congress and the FCC.

Powerful lawmakers like House Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., have indicated a softening of support for the Feb. 17, 2009, "hard date" when over-the-air analog TVs will stop working without a converter box.

The date was set when Dingell's party was in the minority, and he fought it at the time, questioning the wisdom of the program. He renewed those concerns this week, telling the National Association of Broadcasters that he was critical of the progress made so far. Under the program, Congress set aside $1.5 billion for an initiative that would refund viewers for some of the money spent on set-top boxes.

"We don't yet have technical standards for the boxes. We don't know when the boxes will be ready. We don't know how much personal information consumers must disclose on the application," Dingell said.

He later told reporters that changing the date was an option.

"We need to fix a date that makes sense," he said Wednesday. "This is one of those things we will be looking at."

But FCC commissioner Robert McDowell said Thursday that altering the date would be an error.

"It would be a mistake to push back the deadline," McDowell said. "We need to stick to that deadline and get it done."
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