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Hill Works On DTV Bills

Legislators on the House and Senate side continued to work Monday on bills to goose the DTV transition converter-box subsidy program, or extend the transition date, or both, an aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller saying they hoped to be able to introduce it "fairly soon." He would not say how, soon, though.

"The Senator remains committed that DTV happens smoothly and that we get it right," said the aide. Last week, Sen. Rockefeller said he supported Barack Obama's request that Congress move the Feb. 17, 2009 DTV transition date and went to work on a bill to do so.

Over on the House side, a source familiar with a bill drafted by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) to break a logjam in DTV-to-analog converter box coupon requests was sounding a similar cautious tone. He said there was still discussion about "whether to do this ADA fix bill, or a move-the-date bill, or both. No decision has been made."

The Markey bill would exempt the government's converter box subsidy program from a law that won't let it send out more coupons until money has been freed up from coupons that expire. At the current rate, that would leave a waiting list of almost 2 million people who have applied for the coupons but can't get them.

While Barack Obama and some top Democrats have called for moving the date, there are a number of issues, from an 18-month education campaign pushing DTV, to freeing up analog TV spectrum for commercial and emergency communications purposes, to local broadcaster expense, to viewer confusion, that makes the issue a thorny one.

On the other side are concerns among Democrats about minorities, rural residents, the poor and senior citizens not getting converter boxes in time, the result being a messy DTV transition dropped in the lap of the new administration just weeks after he takes the oath of office and affecting some of the neediest populations he championed in the general election.