The government would reclaim TV stations' old analog channels Dec. 31, 2008, according to draft legislation House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton plans to unveil Monday.
Barton had not released a draft of the bill Friday, but some key details had begun to leak to industry lobbyists following Barton's negotiations with other lawmakers. One of those lobbyists suggested that multicast must-carry, in which cable would be required to carry broadcasters' multiple digital signals, was not part of the bill as drafted.
The Texas Republican had previously insisted that he favored sticking to the original Dec. 31, 2006, target deadline set by Congress in 1997, but that date was widely regarded as politically (and probably technically) impossible and negotiations over that date between Democrats and Republicans were said to have broken down after several weeks of talks.
Barton would like to have as wide a consensus as possible on the bill.
The thorniest problem Barton is having is getting agreement on the size of a government subsidy that would defray the costs for consumers who buy converter boxes necessary to keep their analog sets working in the all-digital world.
Barton has favored a minimal approach costing no more than $500 million that would provide only one box to each low-income household.
Others, such as Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, want the subsidy to cover multiple TVs in nearly for any household that wants to keep hold sets working that could run to several billion dollars.
Currently the draft contains no provision for a subsidy. Because no agreement could be reached on the subsidy, Democrats did not sign off on the draft.
In a statement, John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) ranking members of the House Commerce Committee and Telecommunications Subcommittee, respectively, said: "Despite the good-faith negotiations with Chairmen Barton and Upton on a digital television transition bill, we have important outstanding issues that could not be resolved before the Chairmen concluded the talks.
"While we agree that a "date certain" for the digital transition advances several public policy goals, including addressing vital public safety needs, we continue to believe we should not take action to shut off millions of television sets without a workable remedy for consumers."
The Commerce Committee plans a hearing on the draft Thursday, May 26.