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Breaking DTV News

Senate Agrees To Move DTV Transition Date

Must be reconciled with House version of the bill

By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/26/2009 5:00:16 PM MT

The Senate Monday night approved unanimously a compromise bill (S.328) that would move the DTV transition date from Feb. 17 to June 12, but it must now be reconciled with a House version of the bill, and quickly point out backers of the legislation.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and the bill's co-sponsor, sought a similar vote on his original bill, which would simply have moved the date from Feb. 17 to June 12. That bill was blocked by at least one Republican, which is all it takes.

Rockefeller then teamed with ranking Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson on a compromise bill that dealt with other issues, including unclogging the DTV-to-analog converter box backlog and access to reclaimed analog TV spectrum by industry and first responders. Most importantly, at least in terms of getting Republican support, the bill is revenue-neutral, meaning the cost of making the move will be underwritten by future FCC spectrum auctions.

It was that bill that made it past the Republican gauntlet.

The House is preparing Tuesday to mark up its own, similar, bill, but could conceivably engage in a game of legislative ping-pong with the Senate version that would preclude having to conference to reconcile the two. The bills are "virtually alike," says one Rockefeller aide. "The House bill actually contains funding number which we don't have in our bill." He said they may have to conference the bill, but it could also be a case of where "they amend it and pass it back over here and we amend it and send it back over there until we have a final bill."

The Obama administration three weeks ago asked Congress to delay the transition date, prompted primarily by a slow-down in converter-box coupon distribution due to the combination of a funding ceiling and an accounting problem that prevented more coupons from being sent out before expired ones were redeemed.

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