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Republican Senators Push Their DTV Bill - Broadcasting & Cable

Republican Senators Push Their DTV Bill

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Five Senate Republicans, four on the Senate Commerce Committee, have written committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to urge him to stick with that committee's version of the DTV transition bill when he conferences with the House Commerce Committee leadership on a reconciled bill.

Due to Senate rules preventing legislating on appropriations bills, the Senate version is a stripped-down bill that deals only with the setting of a hard date and the setting up of a funding mechanism to pay for digital converter boxes for viewers with analog sets that would otherwise not work after the transition.

The Senate bill sets an April 7, 2009, hard date for the shut-off of analog TV service and the switch to digital and sets aside $3 billion for a converter-boxprogram that is meant to cover every household.

By contrast, the House Commerce version sets a Dec. 31, 2008, date and only sets aside a little under $1 billion for the subsidy, and makes it a first-come, first-served program with a couple of administrative hoops to jump through, that may not cover everyone who needs it. That bill also contained numerous other DTV-related provisions.

The Republican letter-writers have no trouble with the difference in dates. "We believe there will be room for reasonable negotiation with our House counterparts on this issue," they wrote.

But they don't want it to include the other "extraneous" DTV-related provisions, including one that would allow cable to convert its signal from HDTV to standard DTV or digital to analog.

"Complicated policy issues such as these merit extensive review in committee. We urge you to oppose additional digital television provisions beyond the hard date," they wrote.

Signing the letter were George Allen (R-Va.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).

Traditionally, the conferencing is between the leadership of the two committees, which would be Stevens and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), but Barton suffered a heart attack Thursday and was still hospitalized at press time.

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