Mandatory cable carriage of broadcasters' multicast DTV signals could yet get its day on Capitol Hill next week if the Senate Commerce Committee adds a fifth media-related bill to its busy Oct. 19 hearing.
Already on the docket are a DTV transition "hard date" bill, a VoIP e911 bill, a bill establishing a pan-media emergency communications system, and a bill mandating on-screen disclaimers for government-issued packaged video news releases.
What seemed conspicuous for its absence was a companion bill to the DTV transition legislation, but a staffer said that bill was still being worked on and could yet be added to the mark-up agenda.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) reiterated last week that he was working on a companion DTV bill that would include issues that could not be dealt with in the transition bill, including DTV must-carry, though Stevens was not saying what they would be. He did say he hoped to move that bill by the end of the month.
The first DTV bill out of the gate must, by Senate rules, confine itself to budget issues related to the return of analog spectrum and the money that that will generate for the treasury. The budget committee needs those figures by Oct. 25 to include in its budget reconciliation package.
Senate rules prevent legislating other issues on appropriations bills, so the primary bill will probably be confined to setting a hard date for the return of spectrum and setting aside money for a subsidy for digital-to-analog converters and a consumer education campaign about the switch.
The companion bill could contain a variety of elements, including, most prominently, multicast must-carry, the broadcast flag (digital distribution protection for TV and perhaps radio), and even the issue of setting aside more room for unlicensed, so-called "smart" devices in the current or future broadcast spectrum.
A house version of the DTV hard date bill will likely be marked up the week after next. The House budget committee has put off its deadline until Oct. 28.