House May Vote on DTV 'Nightlight' Bill

Congress could take up SAFER (Short-Term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness) Act as soon as today.

Word from a Hill source is that the House could take up a DTV nightlight bill today.

It is scheduled for a session to consider the auto bail-out bill and could also consider some non-controversial legislation.

The SAFER (Short-Term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness) Act, sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), would allow broadcasters to continue to deliver analog signals for a brief period following the Feb. 17, 2009 cut-off date.

They would not be allowed to continue programming the signals, but could keep them on as a sort of DTV nightlight for emergency information and DTV education information for any viewers still trying to watch analog TV in a digital world. 

Broadcasters pushed for the grace period, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said he thought it was a good idea. However, he also suggested some broadcasters might want to make the switch a week or two early and thus have a grace period without having to change the law, which requires the cessation of full-power analog at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2009.  

Meredith Attwell Baker, head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, also supports the bill, so long as it is a limited extension for emergencies and does not open the door to moving the cut-off date. 

The Rockefeller bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent last month. It has several caveats. For one thing, it simply permits, rather than mandates, the analog grace period, and says stations could not stay on if they interfered with other stations.

It will also be physically impossible for stations whose analog and digital channels are the same.

The Hill source said it was not definite that the bill would get a vote, but it was "certainly the best opportunity we have seen."