DTV Transition Deadline Redux

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Due to some last-minute legislative wrangling late last year, the final deadline date for the broadcast industry’s transition to digital television won’t be finalized before the House of Representatives returns to work later this month, sources said last week.

Under a legislative compromise approved by both houses of Congress in December, the date was set for Feb. 17, 2009-and the federal subsidy to help consumers buy digital-to-analog converters was capped at $1.5 billion.

But because the Senate tweaked several provisions unrelated to the DTV transition before voting 51-50 to approve the massive budget bill in which the DTV measures are included, the House must now vote to approve the budget package anew.

The House originally approved on a 212-206 vote in December the budget measure with the DTV compromise attached. Some industry and congressional sources predict that the measure will win approval again by a similar margin after the House returns to work Jan. 31.

But if the controversial budget bill fails to win House approval this time around, legislators could be forced to address DTV legislation fresh-clearing the way for the adoption of a new transition deadline and other DTV-related provisions.

“We could move it as a stand-alone piece of DTV legislation,” one congressional source said.

Before the DTV legislative compromise, the Senate and House had approved their own bills on the subject.

Under the Senate’s original legislation, the DTV transition deadline was April 7, 2009, while the House legislation would have forced the switch by Dec. 31, 2008. The original Senate bill would have capped the converter subsidies at $3 billion, while the House bill would have provided $1 billion. The compromise roughly split the differences.

In a victory for broadcasters, the legislative compromise also eliminated a provision in the original House bill that would have required broadcasters to provide more than $5 billion in advertising time to promote the transition to DTV technology.

Also scrapped was a controversial provision in the House bill that would have allowed cable TV operators to downconvert high-definition broadcast signals to standard-definition DTV for five years after the transition.