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Stevens: DTV Bill Would Set Aside $3 Billion for Converters

Oct 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

DTV legislation slated for a vote Thursday by the Senate Commerce Committee would earmark $3 billion to help more than 60 million consumers buy digital-to-analog converters to ensure that analog-only TV sets still work after April 7, 2009, when the bill would pull the plug on analog TV operations.

That was the word from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in a speech to an industry seminar Wednesday in Washington.

“We plan to provide a set-top box to everyone who has a TV box that needs one,” said Sen. Stevens, adding that converters are expected to cost about $50 apiece when the DTV transition is complete. The senator also said lawmakers have agreed that consumers would have to make a $10 co-pay for each converter, with additional costs coming from the $10 billion expected to be raised by auctions of the rights to the broadcasting industry’s analog TV channels.

Sen. Stevens also confirmed that, due to parliamentary concerns, the five-page DTV bill that will go to a vote Thursday will include only provisions that are directly related to congressional funding concerns, because lawmakers want to include the measure in a major budget bill. Even so, Sen. Stevens predicted that efforts would be made to amend the budget package on the Senate floor to include such controversial provisions as a multicast carriage requirement. “And I may support some of those,” he said.

Still, the lawmaker said a second bill would be needed to detail how the set-top box program actually works — and to deal with other policy issues related to the DTV conversion, including whether to require cable TV operators to carry multicast signals and setting the ground rules for cable’s down-conversion of the digital broadcast signals.

Among the other policy issues that the senator said might be addressed in the second bill would be what he described as “family issues” and rules requiring “special rates or at least special treatment” for political candidates before elections.

Sen. Stevens said he hopes the second bill will be approved this year, but he declined to forecast what it would end up including.

“If you had been in the discussions I was in yesterday, you’d wonder if it was ever going to be possible,” he said. “But as a fact of the matter, it has to be done.”

Added the senator: “What the content’s going to be is going to be very difficult.”