A bill that would allow broadcasters to keep their analog signals running for a couple weeks past the Feb. 17, 2009 date could get a vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday.
According to Emily Kryder, press secretary to Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), word is the bill could be approved by unanimous consent by week's end. Capps introduced a similar bill in the House, and a source said the Senate vote would essentially be on a modified draft of the House bill. If it passes the Senate, it would then go to the House for a vote. If that is the case, it is likely to pass "in short order," said a Senate source, particularly since congressional leadership is looking to actually get some things done rather than appear to simply be flapping its wings in the lame duck session.
The Senate version was introduced by Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA).
The bill would require broadcasters to transition their primary channel feeds to digital by Feb. 17, but would allow, though not require, them to continue to broadcast DTV-education information and emergency information in analog for 30 days past the Feb. 17, 2009 date.
According to a draft of the bill supplied to B&C, the FCC would have to come up with a plan by Jan. 15, 2009, on how to implement the grace period.
Among the things the FCC would have to take into account are transmitter availability, making sure the continued broadcasts don't interfere with new DTV signals, making it clear the analog nightlight signal does not have to be carried or retransmitted by cable operators. prohibiting continued analog signals on any channel approved for public safety, including TV channels 14-20, and excluding any analog channels between 52 and 69 (the 700 mHz spectrum reclaimed by the FCC for auction).
A number of broadcasters had been pushing for the grace period, prompted in part by lessons learned from the Wilmington, N.C., early analog shutoff, where stations there continued to air analog signals with a DTV- education graphic. The Federal Communications Commission received several-thousand calls from viewers with requests for help of various kinds.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters Tuesday that he was generally supportive of the bill from a consumer perspective. "Trying to make sure there is a temporary time frame where broadcasters can provide information about what is going on with the DTV transition would be helpful," he told reporters after a speech at a Phoenix Center conference in Washington.
Martin has also suggested broadcasters could make the switch a couple weeks early, which would achieve a similar end without the problem of violating the statute. Currently, the law requires the cessation of all full-power analog TV signals by midnight on Feb. 17.