A suggestion at recent Senate hearings that broadcasters need more time to transition to digital television was not well received by lawmakers. Even so, by the time the hearings concluded most agreed that a delay was inevitable. Following the hearing, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said an extension was practically a done deal as “there's no chance in Gila Bend, Arizona” that broadcasters could make their deadlines. “You're looking at the power of the broadcasters,” he told reporters. “I guarantee you there will be (an extension). I can assure you they have sufficient clout to extend these deadlines.”
There was exasperation in McCain's voice over what he perceives as industry foot-dragging. The Senator's tenacity on this issue is somewhat more tempered recently and he has said on other occasions that extensions in the process would come as no surprise. Other senators who give the impression that they too are tiring of the digital TV novella have joined him.
“You're looking at the power of the broadcasters. I guarantee you there will be (an extension).”
Remember, it was McCain who did not want to allow broadcasters to have the extra channels they need to facilitate the switch to digital TV, calling it a $70 billion giveaway, preferring instead to auction those frequencies to the highest bidder.
The Senate is not the only body that shows movement on the deadlines for auctioning the returning spectrum. The FCC has postponed the channels 60-69 auction and the Bush budget anticipates that an auction for channels 52-59 will also have to be rescheduled.
Not to be outdone, the House Telecommunications Subcommittee headed by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), held a similar hearing just two weeks later on the same subject with an emphasis on the views of private industry. The message to the House Subcommittee was a reprise of the earlier Senate hearings.
Neither of the lawmakers' hearings produced any suggestions or replacement time schedules for the DTV turnaround, but with an expected $7.5 billion in spectrum sales by 2011, they're not likely to let it slip too far.