DTV Legislation in Conference

The DTV legislation that would set a hard analog sunset date for at least 75 stations is now in conference. The legislation became part of a major intelligence reform package that sources say the president would like to sign, preferably in a Rose Garden ceremony, before the general election Nov. 2. An amendment on the
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The DTV legislation that would set a hard analog sunset date for at least 75 stations is now in conference. The legislation became part of a major intelligence reform package that sources say the president would like to sign, preferably in a Rose Garden ceremony, before the general election Nov. 2.

An amendment on the Senate version of the bill would clear the 700 MHz public-safety band by the end of 2007. Additional provisions would order the FCC to issue a rulemaking on DTV public-interest obligations and must-carry before the end of this year.

The original amendment, introduced by Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz), included a hard shut-off date of Jan. 1, 2009 for all analog TV operations. McCain's proposed deadline was subsequently weakened by another amendment from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) to allow waivers in the event of "consumer disruption." Thus, the deadline reverted to the 85-percent audience-reach threshold as defined in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) then struck back with a nonbonding resolution in the House intel-reform bill to eliminate the 85-percent threshold. The Barton camp will likely try to wrangle any other DTV provisions out of the final intelligence bill, since the Congressman has made it perfectly clear that he wants to author his own comprehensive DTV legislation during the next session.

Sources on Capitol Hill said members hoped to pass the final bill out of conference by the end of next week, but there were still some touchy partisan issues that could potentially mire it.

Congress will reconvene for a lame-duck session Nov. 16.