Low-Power TV Stations Get Boost from Senate Commerce Committee

Deficit Reduction Act Corrected to Provide $65M for LPTVs to Make Switch to Digital

The Senate Commerce Committee Thursday gave a shot in the arm to low-power TV stations.

Without debate, the committee agreed to make a technical correction to the Deficit Reduction Act that will allow the government to give out $65 million to help low-power TV stations and translators make the switch to digital.

The way the bill had been written, low-powers would not get the money until October 2010, a year-and-a-half after full-powers make the DTV switch.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requested that the money be freed up early so that more stations could go digital sooner. The NTIA hopes to alleviate some of the concerns raised by the fact that its DTV-to-analog converter boxes are not permitted to have analog tuners in them and are not required to pass through analog signals.

With most low-powers not switching to digital in February 2009, the boxes could make it harder to view thousands of stations, including many Spanish-language affiliates.

Committee co-chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) pointed out that in his home state, there are "hundreds of these small stations that are often the only broadcasting source." He said the bill was necessary to correct the technical error.

Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) promised the NTIA that the bill would pass unanimously, which it did.