DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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Final Law

December 19, 2005 (updated 12/22)

The House of Representatives adopted the House-Senate conference report on the budget reconciliation bill (including DTV transition) just before sunrise this morning, passing the amended S.1932 and presumably setting the final (hopefully) hard date ending analog TV broadcasts. The House then adjourned for the year and left town (mostly).

That draft legislation establishes February 17, 2009, as the final hard cut-off date for analog TV broadcasts. Unfortunately, it is tied up in a larger devisive budget bill, which was still being debated in the Senate on Tuesday (12/20) and finally passed on Wednesday with VP Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote.

Senate disagreement about Medicaid cuts, etc. forced changes in the bill (from what the House passed), so it looks like the legislation will be dead this year (The House will have to vote again on the amended bill before it can be sent to the President for signature). Many House Representatives have already gone home for the holidays, although a pro forma session of the House is scheduled for Thursday to tie up formalities. Passage now waits for January (likely late January).

The DTV provisions in the bill also include authorization for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to create a digital-to-analog converter box program to help over-the-air viewers continue to receive broadcast programming.

$990 million would be allocated for the program, which will enable households that make an affirmative request to receive by U.S. mail up to two, $40 converter-box coupons. This will help minimize participation by consumers who do not need a subsidized converter-box.

The NTIA may use up to $100 million of the $990 million for administrative costs. Up to $5 million of the administrative funds may be used to educate consumers about the digital television transition and the digital-to-analog converter-box program.

If NTIA certifies to Congress that it needs more money to fulfill the program, the overall amount available increases to up to $1.5 billion and the administrative amount available increases to up to $160 million.

The text of the House-Senate conference version of the DTV transition bill is now on-line (click here for a PDF version). As expected, the non-budgetary provisions have been deleted, presumably because of Senate rules against non-budgetary provisions in budget bills (although other rules were waived in order to get this bill passed quickly so the House could vacate Washington).

This means that the all-important consumer education provisions that had been in the House version of the bill will now have to wait to be included in a separate bill next year.

Certainly without the specific warning label requirement for analog TVs (strongly opposed by the consumer electronics industry) and the specific requirement for broadcast and cable public service announcements (shunned by those industries), it will be unlikely that details of the transition to a new TV standard will become widely known anytime soon.