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updated 12/21/2007 6:16:33 PM ET 2007-12-21T23:16:33

Broadcasters along the U.S.-Mexico border fear they will be at a competitive disadvantage when the U.S. switches to digital television in 2009 because residents can still pick up Mexican stations on old TV sets.

On Feb. 18, 2009, tens of millions of televisions that are not equipped to receive digital signals will no longer be able to receive programming. People in the U.S. with old televisions will have to buy converter boxes or subscribe to cable or a satellite service to get programming.

But along the U.S.-Mexico border, Americans with old sets still can get free Mexican stations, and U.S. broadcasters fear they will choose not to convert to digital sets, costing them viewers.

"The U.S. is cutting off all analog broadcasting. Mexico is not," said Barry Friedman, a lobbyist who represents the Spanish language broadcasters in south and west Texas. "Mexico will continue to transmit an analog signal receivable by everyone who hasn't got rid of their old analog set. That will provide a competitive advantage to the Mexican stations."

Like their Mexican counterparts, U.S. Spanish-language stations offer news in Spanish that usually includes more coverage of Spanish-speaking countries than regular stations. They also offer Spanish-language soap operas known as telenovelas, soccer games and comedies.

Last August, The Nielsen Company announced it would measure viewership of Hispanic networks as it does for non-Hispanic networks.

Nielsen said Hispanic viewers in the U.S. have risen from 22.2 million or 9 percent of the U.S. population in 1992-1993 to 38.9 million or 14 percent of the population in 2005-2006.

Advertising spending on Spanish language television had grown from $1.8 billion in 2001 to more than $3.05 billion in 2006, Nielsen said.

Border broadcasters are hoping for some relief through legislation filed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. on Friday.

The legislation allows stations serving communities within 50 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border to continue broadcasting an analog signal for five years if given permission by the FCC. That would affect companies with stations in Laredo, McAllen and El Paso, Texas, and those in the broadcasting region between Yuma, Ariz., and El Centro, Calif.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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