Farmers, Preachers Push Senate DTV Bill


Farmers and TV ministers are looking for some help from Capitol Hill on the DTV transition bill the House is expected to vote on Thursday.

Looking past that vote and toward the conference to reconcile the House and already-passed Senate versions of the bill, Larry Mitchell, chief executive of the American Corn Growers Association, and Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, both wrote Senate Commerce Committee Co-chairs Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) Wednesday asking them to fight for their Senate version of the bill, which was confined to setting a hard date and a subsidy, primarily due to rules that prevent the Senate from legislating on appropriations bills.

The House version contains many more provisions, and Stevens plans to deal with those in a separate bill. Since the so-called Byrd rule limiting appropriations bills also applies to the House-Senate conferenced bill, the provisions Wright and Mitchell are looking to strip may have to be taken out anyway.

Mitchell was championing the Senate bill's April 7, 2009 hard date for the DTV switch and offer of a $3 billion subsidy for converter boxes, and both wanted language about cable downconversion taken out.

The House version sets a Dec. 31, 2008 hard date, only provides $990 million for a subsidy, and includes langauge that initially allows cable to downconvert HDTV signals to standard DTV and DTV to analog.

That, says Wright, "may well doom multicasting altogether and increase dramatically consumer resistance to converting to digital television."

"Rural Americans rely more on current analog over-the-air television broadcast than any other sector of our nation’s television consumers," Mitchell argued in his letter. "Rural consumers will need as much time as possible to provide the outreach and education required to make the transition as seamless and successful as possible. And since we rely on the current analog standard more than other Americans, financial assistance for the set-top converter boxes is critical."