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DTV bill clears Senate; House next

Legislation that would finally end analog television service continues to snake its way through Congress. Last week, the Senate passed its version of the DTV bill, while the House waits for its turn.

The Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 52-47, after rejecting attempts to make last minute changes from the floor. The turn-off date of April 7, 2009, held after an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to accelerate the deadline was rejected.

McCain argued that his amendment would give public safety officials earlier access to the spectrum they need to improve their emergency communications capabilities.

McCain said the NAB is the only organization that is against the amendment. “We’ll see if they win again,” he said.

They did.

Also surviving the Senate legislation is a provision of about $3 billion to subsidize analog-to-digital off-air converter boxes. The House wants substantially less for such converter boxes and the issue is expected to be a major issue of contention when the House and Senate versions of the bill are reconciled in a conference committee.

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), the Senate Commerce Technology Subcommittee chairman, opted to withdraw a floor amendment that would have cut converter box subsidies. He said he still plans to push for the reduction during conference committee negotiations.

Ensign, whose amendment would have reduced the subsidy program from $3 billion to $1 billion, wanted to earmark the resulting $2 billion in savings for deficit reductions. But he shied away after realizing there was an appetite on the Senate floor to spend those funds on other projects, the National Journal reported.

The House version of the DTV bill sets the analog turn-off at Dec. 31, 2008, and contains less than $1 billion for the converter subsidy. The full House has yet to vote on the measure.

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