House Committee Approves Date for DTV Transition Deadline

Oct 26, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation late Wednesday that would set the deadline for the digital TV transition at Dec. 31, 2008, and provide up to $990 million to subsidize digital-to-analog converter boxes for analog-only sets.

Committee Democrats had proposed an amendment that would have set the transition date at April 7, 2007, and provided whatever it cost-estimated by Democrats to be as much as $4 billion-to subsidize the acquisition of converter boxes for all 73 million analog-only sets currently in U.S. households. But the Republican-dominated committee rejected the amendment earlier Wednesday in a 28-21 party-line vote.

Democrats warned that the Republican plan, adopted on a 33-17 vote, largely along party lines, would provide funding for only about 20 million converter boxes, disenfranchising the owners of more than 50 million sets.

“This is a government-forced condemnation of private property,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

But committee Republicans slammed the Democratic plan-which proposed to earmark for a variety of telecommunications-related purposes all of the $10 billion expected to be raised from the auctions of analog channels that broadcasters will return to the federal government once the DTV transition is complete.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the committee’s chairman, said the Republican plan proposes to turn some of the money raised by the spectrum auctions over to the U.S. Treasury to reduce the federal budget deficit. “I think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Rep. Barton said.

Though Rep. Markey was rumored to be considering introducing an amendment that would have required cable TV operators to carry all programming streams multicast on broadcast digital channels, he didn’t deliver. Industry sources said Rep. Markey was demanding so many public-interest tradeoffs from broadcasters in exchange for the multicast requirements that it appeared the amendment, if he had offered it, would have failed.