DTV Date Not Moving, Hutchison Tells Locke

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) wanted to make sure that presumptive Commerce Secretary, former Washington Governor Gary Locke, is clear that the new DTV hard date of June 12 is not moving.

In her opening statement Wednesday in Locke's nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Hutchinson put a fine point on it: "We cannot extend that deadline again. The NTIA has been given additional funding and the number of consumers on the waitlist to receive coupons has diminished, but there are still many out there and I will certainly want to see how you plan to run the NTIA to assure that DTV is ready to transition in June."

Hutchison teamed with Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) on the compromise bill that moved the DTV date.

Locke will not only inherit the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program if he is confirmed, but he will also get to jump into the middle of the broadband stimulus grant program process. NTIA and the Ag Department are charged with handing out $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money.

The Committee did not vote on Locke's nomination, giving the Senators the rest of the day to submit more questions. According to a source, the plan Thursday is to hold an off-the-floor markup. That is when the committee members are polled as they come off the floor, and if nobody objects, the nomination is approved.

It will then be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule a full-Senate vote, but committee approval likely spells confirmation.

If Locke is confirmed, he would be in charge of, among other things, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the White House's chief telecom policy adviser. NTIA is currently overseeing the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program, whose waiting list for those coupons helped prompt the Obama administration to call for moving the DTV transition date. It is also preparing to hand out billions in broadband stimulus money and help the FCC come up with a grand plan for getting broadband to every home in America.

IF has been the watchword with proposed Commerce Secretary nominees to date. Locke is the Obama administration's third attempt to seat a new Commerce Secretary  after Republican Senator Judd Gregg (New Hampshire) withdrew his nomination citing differences with the administration over moving some of the census responsibilities out of Commerce and over the stimulus package.

Gregg was a replacement for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who also withdrew his name due to an investigation of a private company's dealings with the state government, specifically how political donors won a state contract.

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.