Critics question US plan for digital TV

A Federal Communications Commission plan to help owners of rural television stations survive the transition to digital broadcasting is great for station owners, bad for cable companies and of questionable value to viewers, according to critics, quoted by an Associated Press report.

The Associated Press report said FCC chairman Kevin Martin's plan is meant to help thousands of low-power television stations across the US that operate in rural and underserved communities hold onto their viewers during the digital shift.

Owners of these stations have been upset because they say they have been largely left out of government efforts to educate the public about the change, the report said.

Beginning February 18, 2009, all full-power television stations in the US will broadcast a digital-only signal, the report said.

Anyone who gets programming via an antenna and does not have a newer-model digital set will need to buy a box that will 'down-convert' the digital signal to analog, it added.

The government will provide two $40 coupons per household that can be used to buy these boxes.

The problem facing the low-power stations is that they are not required to go digital. Use of a converter box may actually block the low-power analog signal, yet digital signals would display normally, the report said.

The chairman wants a hard date of 2012 for low-power television stations to convert to digital.

The low-power television industry has been lobbying for Class A, must-carry status for years. While these proposals will clearly benefit station owners, what is not clear is what they will do to remedy the problem at hand, how to make sure current over-the-air viewers will still get a signal during the transition, the report further said.