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House Working on Bill to Move DTV Date

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The DTV Countdown: Complete Coverage of the DTV Transition

According to a Hill source familiar with the committee's thinking, the bill drafted by House Energy & Commerce member Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to free up money for DTV-to-analog converter box coupons is no longer an option.

The source said the committee is now working on legislation to free up more money for the program and move the date, having concluded that there was not enough time to free up coupon distribution sufficiently to help the almost 2 million requests now on a government waiting list.

"Basically the ADA fix bill has become a moot issue," the aide said. "Now that a couple days have transpired, by the time it passes the Senate and gets to the president’s desk, the backlog on the waiting list means that the coupons wouldn't arrive by the 17th of February”—the day when all high-power analog signals are to be shut off.

 The "ADA fix" was a reference to the bill's waiving of law that required the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to wait until coupons had expired to send out more after it had reached its funding ceiling. Committee efforts will now focus on getting more money for coupons and moving the date back.

The Senate is already working on a bill to move the date. An aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is spearheading that effort, had no updates on its progress at press time, but Rockefeller began work with the Obama transition team on the bill last week.

While Rockefeller has said he supports moving the date, Markey along with Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and new Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) have not yet joined him in endorsing the move. All have said it is on the table for consideration and all agree there are problems with the transition that need immediate attention.

The President-elect called for moving back the DTV transition date last week, citing the coupon box waiting list and a general lack of funds for DTV education.

Tom Wheeler, who is heading the FCC agency review team for the transition, elaborated upon that Tuesday in an interview for future broadcast on C-SPAN, saying that he recommended the delay in part because the groundwork hadn't been properly laid for the transition in the time since the DTV hard date was set in 2005.

A committee spokesperson had not returned a call for comment at press time.

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.