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Senate Passes DTV Bill - Broadcasting & Cable

Senate Passes DTV Bill

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The Senate late Thursday approved the DTV transition bill--officially Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005--by a close vote of 52 to 47.

While an amendment to move the hard date for return of analog spectrum for auctioning to 2008, and another that would have cut the analog-to-digital converter box subsidy did not make it onto the bill, the legislation was amended to earmark additional revenues from spectrum auctions.

The bill as passed sets an April 7, 2009, hard date; a Jan. 28, 2008 auction date, and sets aside $3 billion for the subsidy. 

From the projected $10 billion in auction revenues, the bill sets aside $5 billion for the treasury, $3 billion for the subsidy; $200 million low power TV stations and translators; $1 billion for state and local interoperability; $250 for a national alert and tsunami warning system; $250 million for E-911 communications;  $200 million for coastal States affected by hurricanes and other disasters; $75 million available for the Essential Air Service program (an unrelated appropriation which is apparently important to Alaska and Hawaii, the home states of the co-chairmen of the Senate Commerce Committee, which drafted the bill.

In addition, the amendment that was adopted earmarks the first $1 billion--over the Congressional Budget Office's $10 billion estimate--for deficit reduction, the next $500 million for interoperability for first responders, the next $1.2 billion for coastal restoration for hurricane-affected states, and the rest to deficit reduction again.

Although CBO estimated that $10 billion return, private estimates have gone as high as $28 billion.

The House still has to vote on its longer and more comprehensive version of a DTV transition bill, which has only a $990 million subsidy and a Dec.31, 2008 hard date. It earmarks most of the auction money for deficit reduction.

If the House bill passes as is, there will be much work in conference to reconcile the two bills.

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