Tauzin’s DTV deadline bill still has life

Oct 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A controversial proposal that would force broadcasters to switch to digital TV at the end of 2006, whether consumers are ready for it or not, isn’t dead-despite the assurances to the contrary from broadcast industry lobbyists.
That was the word last week from a top aide to Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the author of the measure.
“Billy has not made any final decisions about what will be in included in the bill yet,” said Ken Johnson, the lawmaker’s spokesman.
Under existing law, broadcasters don’t have to return their analog channels to the government until 85 percent of the viewers in their communities are capable of receiving DTV-something many industry overseers don’t expect to happen for a dozen years or more.
But to the dismay of broadcasters, Rep. Tauzin recently unveiled legislation that would set a firm 2006 deadline for the spectrum’s return.
In the wake of a lobbying blitz by broadcasters, several key lawmakers, broadcasters and consumer group representatives blasted Rep. Tauzin’s plan at congressional hearings last month, arguing that it would disenfranchise millions of TV viewers.
Even Rep. Tauzin appeared to be backing away from the initiative at the time, contending that it was part of a “discussion draft” that had yet to be formally introduced as a bill.
But in an interview last week, Mr. Johnson disputed the contention of lobbyists that the provision would be axed before the lawmaker introduces DTV legislation when Congress returns to Capitol Hill next year.
“The lobbyists don’t know what the f*** they’re talking about,” Mr. Johnson said. “The lobbyists will see our bill when it is introduced.”
One well-placed industry source speculated that the congressman may want to leave the provision in the bill as a “hammer” to hold over the heads of broadcasters to ensure that they continue taking DTV conversion seriously.
But the consensus among top industry lobbyists is that in the wake of the broadcast industry’s lobbying initiative on the issue Rep. Tauzin lacks the votes needed to make the provision a reality.
“If broadcasters get their back up about something, they can make a lot of things happen in this town,” one industry source said.