For the moment, the $650 million in the economic stimulus package for the constipated DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program is safe.
According to a source with the office of Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), an amendment drafted as part of the horse-trading Friday over the price of that stimulus package had initially cut all the funding for the program, which subsidizes converter boxes.
The just-passed bill to change the DTV transition date relied on that $650 million to get people off the waiting list, which was one of the principle reasons for the bill, which had no funding of its own.
That Friday amendment, a copy of which was obtained by B&C, did indeed slice all the funding for the coupon program and additional outreach and education that Congress said were necessary for a smooth--or at least smoother--transition.
That $650 million had been struck with the following line "On page 39, strike line 3 and all that follows through
6 page 40, line 2," inserted among a series of others that either cut back or cut out funding in numerous places in the bill. That line lined up exactly with the DTV’s position on page 39 of the bill.
But the source said that by press time, the funding was back in the amendment, which had not yet been introduced. "The situation is very fluid," he said.
Republicans and Democrats are attempting to come to compromise on some cuts to the bill so it can be passed, which the president has said is crucial to the nation's economic recovery. Also in line for cutback is some of the money going to broadband stimulus.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, for one, had raised the possibility that the DTV funding could be cut, suggesting in a public meeting that the $650 million's survival in the stimulus package was just one of a number of variables that made for a potentially messy transition.
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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.