Democrats Vow to Pass DTV Delay Bill

Democrats on Capitol Hill intend to move the digital transition deadline forward despite efforts to the contrary by Republicans. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) last week introduced legislation to delay the DTV transition until June 12 from the current Feb. 17 deadline. Rockefeller, head of the Senate Commerce Committee, tried to fast-track the bill but was blocked by Republicans.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are moving forward on their own delay bill. House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told reporters that marking up delay legislation would be one of the first orders of business for the committee. He told Broadcasting & Cablethe bill was scheduled for mark-up—when committee members pick nits--tomorrow.

Talk of moving the Feb. 17 deadline was initiated just after the New Year when the federal agency handling the DTV converter subsidy program ran out of money. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Jan. 5 that it had exhausted the $1.34 billion allotted to subsidies--$40 coupons good toward digital-to-analog converter boxes. At least 2 million applicants for the subsidy have since been put on a waiting list.

The proposed economic stimulus package circulating on Capitol Hill contains $650 million for more coupons, but the $825 billion bill is likely to take a while to pass. Radio Business reports that Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez has asked that $250 million be freed up now to keep the program going. Nearly $550 million is tied up in expired coupons, and the NTIA can’t recoup that money until Congress passes a waiver allowing it to do so.

President Barack Obama’s transition team issued a statement about two weeks ago advocating the delay.