Rockefeller, Obama Team Drafting DTV Date-Delay Bill

Time frame for a bill draft not revealed
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Senator Jay Rockefeller staffers Friday were already working with the Barack Obama transition team on legislation to delay the DTV transition date, according to an aide to the West Virginia Democrat.

"Yes, we are working on a proposal and yes we are working with the transition team to draft something," said the aide.

That comes just one day

after that transition team asked Rockefeller

, the new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and other top Democrats to make the change, which requires congressional action.

The aide did not have a time frame for when a bill draft might be circulated, but it will obviously have to be soon.

The bill could also include freeing up money for DTV-to-analog converter box coupons by appropriating more money or waiving Antideficiency Act restrictions and effectively allowing the NTIA to send out more coupons without having to appropriate more money.

On the House side, Ed Markey, who has given up the chairmanship of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, but remains a member of the committee and actively interested in speeding the transition, continues to work on a bill that would waive those Antideficiency Act restrictions.

Folks trying to get a $40 government subsidy toward buying the boxes, which allow analog-over-the-air viewers to continue to recieve TV after those signals change to digital, were put on a waiting list this week after the National Telecommunications & Information Administration ran up against a funding ceiling for sending out the coupons.

A Hill source said a draft of that Markey bill could be circulated as early as Friday. The ranking Republican member on the committee, Joe Barton (R-TX), supports the ADA fix, though Barton made clear Thursday he does not support moving the DTV transition date.

The Markey bill may be added to something already moving. There are no plans for a hearing on the bill, said the source.

Raising the appropriation above the current $1.34 billion ceiling would be another way to get coupons moving, but it would be tied to the economic stimulus package, which is probably on a February timetable and thus too late to fix the coupon backlog if the Feb. 17, 2009, transition date holds.

But there is increasing support on the Hill for changing the date, at least from Democrats including Rockefeller and Markey.

That Hill source conceded moving the date would present logistical and political challenges, and that the timetable being kicked around now was anwhere from three to six months. Four months, or sometime in June, as the recommendation of Consumers Union, which got the date-delay ball rolling with a letter to Congress this week.

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