Sen. Stevens Plans Movement on DTV Bills

Oct 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Giving broadcasters cause for concern, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said Wednesday he’s planning to move two bills on the digital TV conversion later this month. One measure would set a hard date for the DTV conversion and include only other provisions that are strictly related to federal budgetary concerns. The other bill would include all other issues related to the transition, including any provision to require cable TV operators to carry all of the programming streams multicast on DTV channels.

At least some in the broadcast industry had hoped to wrap all of the issues into a single measure, under the assumption that including all of the relevant provisions in the massive budget reconciliation package that lawmakers are expected to approve later this month would ensure that issues critical to broadcasters don’t fall to the wayside.

But in a speech to the Association for Maximum Service Television this morning, Sen. Stevens said that including provisions in the budget bill that aren’t closely related to budgetary concerns could make them vulnerable to deletion under Senate parliamentary rules. Sen. Stevens also said he hoped to move the two DTV bills together as companions. But at least some industry sources expressed concern that the bill addressing multicast carriage and other critical industry issues could founder after lawmakers approve the bill setting the transition date. Giving the bill addressing industry concerns some momentum is that it is also expected to include a federal subsidy for digital-to-analog converters for consumers with analog-only TV sets.

Without the converters, millions of analog-only TV sets could go dark in the conversion’s wake. Many lawmakers believe a converter subsidy is needed to contain consumer outrage. “Passage of both bills is necessary to accomplish our goals,” Sen. Stevens said. The lawmaker subsequently told reporters that the issue of whether to include multicast carriage in the legislation was “still being decided,” even though he is widely perceived as a multicast carriage rule supporter. In addition, he said the Senate Commerce Committee is planning to vote on the DTV legislation Oct. 19.