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Hutchison: June 12 Would Be Final DTV Date

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, Friday released a statement explaining her shift on shifting the DTV transition date, including that no further delay would be sought past the current one to June 12 from Feb. 17.

She had expressed reservations early on about moving the date, as had a number of Republicans, but said that here "serious concerns" had been assuaged by changes made to Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller's bill to move the date.

Rockefeller struck the compromise with Hutchison Thursday, and is now hoping for Senate action on the bill early next week. House Energy & Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman says he is waiting to see what the Senate does before moving ahead with his own version of a date-move bill. He could opt to adopt the Senate version instead, which now more closely resembles his own after the input from Hutchison.

Rockefeller's original bill dealt only with moving the date.

Now the bill 1) makes explicit that the move to June 12 is voluntary--stations can switch Feb. 17 if they wish, or between that date and the new hard date; 2) if a station switches early and has spectrum being reclaimed and given to emergency communications, those first responders can immediately start using it; 3) consumers with expired coupons can reapply for them (the House version has a similar provision).

It also extends the FCC's authority to collect money from spctrum auctions, which Congress would have to do anyway, but with the stipulation that some of that money would have to go to defray whatever costs the FCC or National Telecommunications & Information Administration incurred from the delay. That makes the bill revenue neutral and also allows it to pass muster with Republicans.

“I had serious concerns about shifting the digital television transition without a sound plan to inform consumers or address the converter box coupon shortage,” said Hutchison in the statement. “I am pleased that Chairman Rockefeller worked with me to address many of the concerns with the early proposals. These changes will help consumers whose coupons have expired, and allow TV stations that are prepared, and ready, to move forward without the requirement of simulcasting."

She said Senator Rockefeller’s "personal commitment to me to not seek another delay" was necessary to providing "needed certainty to bring this transition to a conclusion. Significant challenges remain, however, and I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure a smooth transition to digital television for all Americans.”

Rockefeller did have one caveat, saying the date would stick barring any "unforeseen emergencies."

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.