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Senate Passes Second Bill Changing DTV Transition Date

The DTV Countdown - Complete Coverage of the DTV Transition

An aide to Senator Jay Rockefeller confirms that the Senate has once again passed a bill changing the DTV transition date from Feb. 17 to June 12.

The bill, which again passed by unanimous consent--no Senator objected--contains a couple of fixes made in the House to language pertaining to budget rules and first responder communications.

The bill is expected to be sent to the House for consideration under regular rules. If the House Rules Committee gets the bill Tuesday, the first day it could, it could get to the House floor by Wednesday, Feb. 4, where a simple majority will be sufficient to pass it.

“The Senate has acted quickly and in a bipartisan way to put the needs
of consumers first,” said Rockefeller in a statement. “Senator
Hutchison’s leadership was critical to getting this bill passed. We
addressed the concerns of our colleagues, public safety, broadcasters
and most importantly, consumers. The House will have a second chance
next week to implement this delay, I am hopeful they will pass this
bill so we can send it to President Obama.”

Rockefeller (D-WVA), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has taken the lead on the DTV date move on the Senate side, including getting the backing of the Obama administration for his version of the bill, though it became a compromise bill with Senate Republicans, led by ranking committee member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who added a number of elements.

Those included language meant to help first responders get access to reclaimed TV spectrum as quickly as possible and to unclog the DTV converter-box coupon program. Those changes made it much more like the House version authored by Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Initially, Rockefeller’s bill only changed the date, which is what he thought would be the easiest bill to get passed. 

"I do want to serve notice that I will not support another delay in implementation," said Senator Hutchison Thursday. "By now, people, have had the notice and we’ve done everything to mitigate the cost of this transition. I’ve talked with Senator Rockefeller about that and I think we are in agreement that now is the time for people to get their coupons and boxes because on June 12 this transition will be made.”

Following are the key elements of the bill, according to Rockefeller’s office:

--Provides Consumer, Broadcasters and Governments time to prepare – In order to better educate consumers about the transition, and to provide consumers with ample opportunity to utilize the converter-box coupon program, the digital transition will shift from February 17, 2009 to June 12, 2009. Despite high awareness of the DTV switch, a recent --Consumer Report survey found that among Americans aware of the transition, 63% had major misconceptions about what steps they need to take to prepare.

--Permits Broadcasters to Continue with Transition Efforts – The bill reaffirms existing law to permit over-the-air broadcast television stations to voluntarily switch from analog to digital service before June 12, 2009. 

--Improves First-Responder Communication -- In the event a broadcast station switches early to digital service, public safety organizations may start using the vacated spectrum.

--Provides Relief to Consumers -- Consumers holding expired coupons they were unable to redeem because of natural disaster, retail or mail issues will be able to apply for replacement coupons.       

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.