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DTV Hard Date Passes...Again - Broadcasting & Cable

DTV Hard Date Passes...Again

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By a squeaker vote of 216 to 214, the House once again set a hard date for the DTV transition--Feb. 18, 2009--and set aside funds--$1.5 billion--for digital-to-analog converter boxes.

The provisions were part of the overall budget reconcilliation bill that the House had already passed Dec. 19 212-206. 

The re-vote of the reconciliation bill was prompted by Senate Democrats, who had used a procedural gambit to delay the bill's passage and force the revote.

The bill now goes to the White House for the president's signature. Details of how the converter box subsidy will be administered have yet to be worked out.

The bill also sets a date of Jan. 28, 2008, for the auction of the analog spectrum.

The bill puts aside money $1 billion for first responders, and there is $5 million that can be set aside for a consumer awareness campaign, and New York gets $30 million to help it get up to speed after 9/11 (the World Trade Center was a TV transmission hub).

The new subsidy for DTV-to-analog converter boxes will be $1.5 billion. Senate Commerce had set aside $3 billion, the House only a little under a $1 billion.

Under the compromise, $990 million would go to the subsidy, but an additional $510 million could be allocated if the Commerce Department determines that the initial outlay was insufficient to cover the program.

The bill assumes that spectrum auctions will raise $10 billion--some estimates say it will be double that.

According to the bill, $7.363 billion will go to the Treasury, with the remainder divided as follows (the langauge is from a Senate outline of the provisions).

1) $1.5 billion for a converter box subsidy program (up to two, $40 coupons per household while supplies last)

2) $75 million for a program to transition Low Power TV stations and TV translators to digital

3) $1 billion for state and local interoperability grants

4) $156 million to fund programs in the WARN Act, which establishes national alert and tsunami warning systems 

5) $43.5 million in funding to improve E-911 communications under the Enhance 911 legislation sponsored by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) passed last year

6) $30 million available for the Essential Air Service program

7) $30 million to the Metropolitan Television Alliance, an organization of New York City broadcast stations, for additional digital broadcast equipment needed to provide an adequate digital signal from the Empire State building until the Freedom Tower is completed. 

The High Tech DTV Coalition, made up of computer and wireless companies including IBM, Dell, Cisco, Microsoft and Qualcomm praised the passage and were already pitching the advanced services they want to launch in the 700 mHz analog spectrum being reclaimed after the DTV switch. Those include mobile broadband and video services.

"This long-awaited legislation will free radiowaves that are considered to be 'beachfront' spectrum real estate," said the group, "because they are ideally suited for serving broadband wireless users, rural customers and emergency responders.The legislation will meet pent-up demand for those airwaves."

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