Dems Push for DTV Date-Change Bill, House Prepares to Vote Today

Top Democrats continue to stump for a DTV date-change bill as the House prepares to vote on the bill today (Feb. 4).

In a second "dear colleague" letter, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Telecommunications & Internet Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA) have updated figures on how many households in each congressional district are on a waiting list for DTV-to-analog converter box coupons.

They also point out that another 200,000 households have been added to the waiting list in the two days since they sent out their first letter listing the households by congressional district.

"Two days ago, we sent out a Dear Colleague that described the 1.8 million households on a waiting list to receive coupons to help offset the cost of purchasing digital television converter boxes, which allow an analog television set that relies on over-the-air reception to display digital signals," they wrote. "Without a delay of the transition date, few, if any, of these households will receive their coupons by February 17 because of the time it takes to process coupon requests."

Their Republican counterparts have argued that moving the date is unnecessary, and tried to amend the date changing bill Tuesday night in the rules committee to change it to a bill that would free up more money for coupons, instead. That effort was defeated.

The DTV date-change bill is expected to pass in the House-it has already passed the Senate. It will change the date from Feb. 17 to June 12 and allow TV households to reapply for expired coupons using $650 million currently in the economic stimulus package to fund the new coupons. Some of the money will also be used for additional education and outreach.

That package reportedly lacks the Senate votes without some paring back of expenditures that did not directly stimulate the economy, which the coupon program outlay arguably does not. But while House Republicans hammered on that $650 million as "a pot of money in search of a problem," Senate Republicans unanimously supported the date-change bill and its implied reliance on those funds, or at least none raised an objection to its passage by unanimous consent last week.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.