DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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House DTV Markup - Part 1

October 25, 2005

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held its first markup session today on the Digital Television Transition Act of 2005. As reported earlier, this first session was to give the Committee members an opportunity to make their opening statements.

The bill they were working on actually had two parts, Title 1 and Title 2, comprising the Committee's part of the budget reconciliation bill (the legislation that attempts to make the budget hit a target of expenditures and revenues). Therein lies the difficulty in the Committee's focus on the purported substance of the legislation.

Focus was mainly on budget policy (and the Medicaid program) and not the digital TV transition.

As was the case with the Senate DTV transition bill, the Congressional leadership (i.e. the Republicans) had given Committee chairpersons mandates to make X dollars worth of cuts and raise Y dollars worth of revenue within their respective areas of responsibility.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has responsibility for the DTV transition (Title 1), and Medicaid, Hurricane Katrina health relief, and Katrina energy relief (Title 2). The opening statements today addressed all of those areas.

It didn't help matters that the Republicans were cutting spending by eliminating $10 billion from the Medicaid program over the next four years. Nevermind that Democratic state governors recommended reforms to reduce state Medicaid expenditures, and that the cuts were purportedly targeted at reducing fraud and waste from the program; the rub seemed to be that the cuts were being made in order to offset large tax cuts (during a war) that would benefit a small minority of the wealthiest Americans.

And not reduce the huge deficit.

Anyway, so most of the acrimonious partisan speeches were about that, and not about digital TV.

The session was nevertheless conducted in a balanced civilized manner, in contrast to the markup session on the other (Stevens) side of the Hill.

There was generally bipartisan support for the DTV transition part of the bill, in particular the need for a hard cut-off date for analog broadcasts. There was agreement that the consumer education provisions in the bill were needed.

Most of the Democrats expressed the desire for greater funding for digital-to-analog converter boxes. The House version allows less than $1 billion; the Senate would give $3 billion for converter boxes.

One Representative suggested that manufacturers should be required to stop selling analog TVs much sooner than the March 1, 2007 date specified in the bill.

As in the Senate, some members objected to the DTV transition legislation being tied into the budget reconciliation bill. The Byrd rule that limits that bill to budget matters apparently also applies to this proposed House legislation; if non-budget provisions such as consumer education have to be stripped out, there seems to be Committee support to quickly introduce a separate bill to make whole the DTV transition legislation.

The actual markup of the DTV transition Title 1 of the bill starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday (October 26). Without Medicaid as a distraction, comments should be more focused.