Emergency War Bill Includes LPTV, Rural DTV Provisions

The “emergency” supplemental appropriations bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is no stranger to seemingly unrelated legislation, and the $165 billion 2008 version—the last major spending train out of Washington until the fall—is loaded up again.

One provision, pushed by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee (and former longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee) steers money to rural DTV education.

The funds would come from $10 million previously appropriated to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for a program that offers $1,000 grants for low-power and translator stations to purchase digital-to-analog converter equipment. That grant would enable them to continue broadcasting in analog after full-power stations move to digital-only broadcasting in February 2009—but that may not be a very appealing move for most stations as the nation moves to digital TVs and DTV set-top boxes.

Another item moves a different NTIA grant program up a year. The bill shifts from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2009 a $65 million appropriation to help low-power stations with their digital build-outs. Fiscal 2009 begins in October 2008; in previous years, funding for new programs has been delayed at the start of the fiscal year because Congress has failed to pass appropriations legislation until after Oct. 1.

The Senate approved the measure Thursday with a veto-proof vote, sending it to the House.