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House Panel Rejects Generous DTV Converter Subsidy

Oct 26, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 28-21 along party lines Wednesday to reject a package of legislative amendments by committee Democrats that would have provided whatever it cost — estimated by Democrats to be up to $4 billion — to subsidize the acquisition of digital-to-analog converter boxes for all 73 million analog-only TV sets in the United States.

A Republican-sponsored DTV measure before the committee would provide a maximum of $990 million for converter acquisitions, with $160 million allotted to the program’s administration and educational costs. With the boxes estimated to cost $50 or more on Dec. 31, 2008 — the deadline for the DTV conversion in the GOP’s DTV bill — the Republican plan would provide funding for roughly 20 million sets. According to the Democrats, this would disenfranchise the owners of more than 50 million other 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 earmark some of the money raised by the spectrum auctions to reducing the federal budget deficit. “I think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Rep. Barton said.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the committee was still debating more than 30 amendments committee members had proposed to attach to the bill. Industry sources said Rep. Markey was considering the introduction of an amendment that would require cable TV operators to carry all programming streams multicast on broadcast DTV channels. But the sources said that Rep. Markey was demanding so many public interest tradeoffs from broadcasters in exchange that it appeared that the amendment, if offered, would fail.