House, Senate Must Reconcile Differences in Competing DTV Bills

Nov 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The House of Representatives voted 217-215 early Friday morning to approve a major budget bill that includes a provision that would force broadcasters to make the switch to digital TV by Dec. 31, 2008. The Senate previously approved legislation that also sets a deadline for the transition. But since the Senate set its deadline for April 7, 2009, the actual date won’t be known until House and Senate leaders meet in conference to work out the differences between their DTV bills-something that’s expected to happen as early as December.

During the conference, lawmakers will also have to iron out other differences between the House and Senate bills, including how large a federal subsidy to provide to help consumers buy digital-to-analog converter boxes to ensure that analog-only TV sets will continue to be able to receive over-the-air broadcast signals after the transition. The Senate legislation provides up to $3 billion for the subsidies, while the House bill would cap federal payments at $990 million.

The House legislation approved also contains a series of controversial provisions that aren’t included in the Senate measure, including one that would require broadcasters to provide more than $5 billion in advertising time to promote the DTV transition on-air. Another controversial provision in the House bill that is opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters would allow cable TV operators to downconvert high-definition broadcast signals to standard definition DTV for five years after the transition. Also during the five-year period, the House legislation would require most cable TV operators to carry analog and digital versions of must-carry broadcast signals to ensure that cable customers equipped with analog-only TV sets won’t have to get a new set-top converter box to continue receiving broadcast signals.