The Senate Dec. 21 passed the conference report on the budget reconciliation bill with a provision establishing Feb. 17, 2009, as the hard cut-off date for analog TV transmission.
By a vote of 51-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the decisive vote, the Senate approved the measure, which the House had passed days before. However, a parliamentary procedure used by Senate Democrats changed the legislation slightly on non-broadcast-related matters. As a result, the legislation must return to the House for approval.
Among the digital transition-related aspects of the reconciliation bills passed by the Senate and House are:
- Establishment of Feb. 17, 2009, deadline for the transition from analog to digital TV transmission;
- Appropriation of $1.5 billion to subsidize the purchase of digital-to-analog converter boxes for over-the-air TV viewers;
- $30 million for the DTV transition in New York City;
- $75 million for the DTV transition of LPTV stations.
The NAB considers the legislation a victory on the cable downconversion of HD signals issue. The legislation did not authorize cable systems to downconvert broadcast HDTV signals for their customers subscribing to analog service. Nor did the legislation compel cable system operators to carry broadcasters’ multicast signals.
The absence of closure on those contentious issues leads some observers to predict that the issue of the DTV transition will come up again. A statement from NAB president and CEO David Rehr following the Senate vote indicates as much.
“…NAB will work with Congress to ensure that cable operators not be permitted to block consumer access to the full benefits of digital and high-definition television," he said.