Barton Introduces Bill To Unclog Coupons

Ranking Republican's bill would not move DTV date.

Ranking Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-TX), joined by other committee Republicans, have introduced a bill that would unclog the processing and delivery of DTV-to-analog converter box coupons without changing the DTV date.

The bill would provide $250 million more for the converter box program, which is what the National Telecommunications & Information Administration has said it would need to immediately resume sending the coupons.

Democratic Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), is working on his own bill that would free up coupons while moving the date, but he cancelled a markup on his bill this week, saying he was waiting to see what happened with a Senate DTV-date move bill. That bill has the backing of the Obama administration.

But Barton and company make clear that the date should not move, saying it would be confusing, continue to tie up first responder spectrum, and "not move a single consumer off of the waiting list for analog-to digital converter box coupons."

"Authorizing an additional $250 million for the coupon program should help those households [that have not received a coupon yet] receive coupons before the transition date."

Barton says that only 200,000 households will lose all TV service if the transition is not delayed, "such a small number of households with 3 the potential to lose service is not reason enough to 4 delay the transition," the bill asserts.

The bill would also require NTIA to send the coupons via pre-sorted first class mail rather than the current bulk rate.

Barton and former House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) were working on a bill to free up coupons before the Obama administration called for moving the date, but Markey is not a sponsor of the bill.

Barton has said Thursday he was working on a new effort to fix the coupons without moving the date. The Obama administration has put $650 million for the coupon program into the economic stimulus package, but Barton argues that is far more money than is needed.

Prospects for the bill are unclear with Waxman waiting for a Senate bill that currently moves the date and has the backing of Senate Republicans.

A Republican committee aide sad that while Republicans no longer control Congress, "Reps. Markey and Barton were working on an administrative fix for the program earlier this month, and Rep. Barton is hopeful that he and Chairman Waxman can come up with a similar fix."

Waxman's spokesperson had no comment at press time.