DTV-Delay Bill Fails To Pass In House
House falls short of 2/3 majority required to approve moving date of DTV transition
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/28/2009 1:02:08 PM
The House Wednesday failed to follow the Senate's lead and pass a DTV date-change bill, putting the move of the DTV transition date in doubt after all the momentum seemed to be moving toward the four-month delay to June 12.
It was also something of a defeat for the Obama administration, which had pushed Congress to move the date, citing the problems in distributing DTV-to-analog converter box coupons and a lack of funding for DTV education. Republicans pushed back hard, saying it was a solution in search of a problem.
The vote was 258 to 168 in favor of changing the date, but under House expedited rules, a 2/3 majority was required for approval.
A spokesperson for Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) had no immediate comment on what the next move will be, but ranking Republican Joe Barton (R-TX) has a bill that would pump more money into the coupon box program without moving the date.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), who pushed the Senate bill and struck the compromise that assured its passage, sounded as though he were conceding the date would now not be changing.
“I am deeply disappointed that Republicans blocked the digital television transition (DTV) delay bill today in the House," he said in a statement. "Instead of delaying the transition to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have the ability to prepare for the transition, they have made certain that far too many consumers across the country will wake up on February the 18th and find that their television sets have gone dark and access to news, information, and vital emergency alerts will be unavailable. It did not have to be this way - this situation was unnecessary and avoidable.”
The Senate had passed a compromise bill Monday by unanimous consent, and Waxman had cancelled a markup on his DTV date change bill to get behind the Senate version.
But while no Republican senator opposed the bill, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, actively supported the compromise bill, the House was an entirely different story.
The House had debated the bill Tuesday night, with a parade of Republicans in opposition and only House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher holding down the fort for the bill's proponents.
The Energy & Commerce Committee's ranking member, Joe Barton, was dead set against moving the date, calling it a potential disaster and saying the $650 million being set aside for reissued coupons for millions of people was a pot of money in search of a problem.
It didn't help that Republican leadership put out a policy statement Tuesday saying "House Republicans oppose any further delay in the deadline."
The momentum had appeared to be clearly in favor of the bill's passage.
Certainly the industry seemed to think the die had been cast. The National Association of Broadcasters, the major networks, wireless companies waiting for reclaimed analog TV spectrum, and the principal ad agency and advertiser lobby groups had gotten behind the change, at least publicly. Barton said many in the media still, privately, were arguing against the move.
After debate on the bill Tuesday night, one Washington TV station was already warning viewers on its Tuesday night newscast that the DTV transition it had been telling them was coming Feb. 17 might be delayed by four months.
House leadership had scheduled a Wednesday vote on the bill on suspension, which is the House's version of an expedited vote with limited debate, no amendments, and a 2/3 majority required for approval. The idea was to get the bill passed as fast as possible given that the DTV date is only three weeks away.
Missouri Republican Rep. Roy Blunt said his vote against the DTV bill was primarily about public safety. "Every day that goes by without this transition is another day that our firefighters, policemen and EMTs cannot effectively communicate," he said.
Blunt said he supported the bill, proposed by Rep. Joe Barton (D-TX), to correct the DTV converter box coupon accounting problem, saying that it would clear up the current backlog.He specifically cited the Fraternal Order of Police objection to moving the date.
As a trained TV Broadcast Engineer, I have both setups, digital and analog. I favor the few digital signals for the quality but favor the analog signal for the amount of choices. I only get two maybe three digital signals and all the analog signals I want. I enjoy the fact that I can carry a small portable analog tv anywhere and pickup a signal. No portable digital sets yet(5"-13"). People have to get off their high horse and remember that people are losing their jobs and not everyone can afford a new digital TV set. There's a waiting list for the coupons for converters also. Show some compassion for the "have nots". Not everyone is as lucky as you to enjoy the luxuries.
Sal - 1/29/2009 8:32:57 PM EST
The delay will hurt every station from a power consumtion standpoint as it takes so much more power to operate analog transmitters. Another issue is that companies spent millions to coordinate these efforts and are wiating for Feb to make it happen, how much more will they have to spend on a problem they never aske for to begin with, tax implications, power bills, etc. I am glad they denied the bill, maybe things will actually get done now. If you are watching over the air signals, then you have been getting the information you need, and if you cannot install it, I am sure someone they know can help or read the directions on the converter box. By the way, you will still get Analog information for emergency and OTA instructions 30-60 days after the transition and border towns willstill be allowed to broadcast analog. Bigger problem: stations are allowed to transition anyway if the date was pushed back. Do you have any idea the magntude of issues with some coverage areqas operating and other operating analog without coordinated effort? Much larger than transitioning in FEB and fixing problems as they areise to each customer. It seems to me FCC was not prepared for the past 6 years to set up call centers to field all the calls, it seemed to me it was their way of compensating for their shortfalls.
Paulo Fernandes - 1/28/2009 4:57:55 PM EST
God bless the Republicans for having the guts to stand up to those who were trying to ram this through. Now we can go ahead and make the transition and get it over with. It's really not that painful and will soon be a memory when everyone is enjoying the higher quality of digital signals. I have had a set top box since 2002 and I love it.
James Hartline - 1/28/2009 4:40:50 PM EST
Delaying the opening of the 700 MHz spectrum to new companies that have already paid the price for the realignment will cost much more in terms of economic growth. Those that will allegedly go without access to TV roughly equals 3% of the 300 million population... logic would dictate the amount of jobs and revenue created from immediately rolling out the new 700 MHz spectrum far outweighs the delay.
Albert Cowan - 1/28/2009 3:28:13 PM EST
The signals are the problem not the boxes. I have a digital/analog set. In analog mode I get 16 channels in digital mode I get ZERO channels. If I hook a converter to analog I get 1 digital and 2 other digitals heavily pixilated and unwatchable. I live 3 miles NW of Sears Tower. This will show you the converter boxes are the least of the worries. It's interesting with this vote as it seems to be American voted less for Obama than against GW Bush.
Eric Post - 1/28/2009 2:34:31 PM EST
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