House Passes Compromise DTV Bill

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The House very early Monday morning passed a compromise DTV hard-date bill as part of the omnibus budget reconciliation package.

According to the new bill, the date for turning off analog and switching to all-DTV broadcasting would be Feb. 17, 2009 (the Senate Commerce Committee had set April 7, 2009, the House Commerce Committee Dec. 31, 2008).

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

Gone are House Commerce-passed provisions on allowing cable to convert an HDTV signal to standard DTV, or DTV to analog, for its customers.

Money for first responders was bumped up to $1 billion from the $500 million the House Commerce Committee passed.

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 language is directly from a Senate Commerce breakdown of the funding): 

1) $1.5 billion for a converter box subsidy program

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.  As a result of the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers in connection with the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, there is no longer an adequate digital broadcast location to cover all of the New York metropolitan area. 

Now the bill must go to the Senate, where the Democrats are widely expected to filibuster. That could mean it will be Wednesday or Thursday before final passage, if then.

Still to be voted on are the FCC nominations of Democrat Michael Copps to a second term and Republican Tennessee utility regulator Deborah Tate to the unexpired term (through 2007) of former Chairman Michael Powell.

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