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House Passes DTV Bill; Final Passage Pushed into 2006

The U.S. House recently approved its controversial budget reconciliation bill by the narrowest possible margin (217-215), but final passage in the Senate after a necessary joint conference committee may not happen until after the congressional holiday break.

Converter provisions in the legislation will include converting HD signals to SD, as well as SD/HD to analog. The House bill maintains its hard date of Dec. 31, 2008, for the return of analog spectrum for auction, along with an adjusted amount of under $900 million set aside for analog homes that need converter set-top boxes. The House measure also includes $300 million for LPTVs and translators, according to published reports.

The earlier-approved Senate bill would delay the cut off a few more months until April 9, 2009. So either date, or a possible compromise date, will still move the new cutoff to early 2009. (Such dates are always moving targets, as has been the case in the transition, to date.) The Senate measure includes an STB subsidy more than three times the amount of the house version, at $3 billion. The Senate subsidy does not distinguish between low-income and other households.

After the House floor vote, the CEA issued a statement saying, in part: "Earlier this year at our HDTV Summit, we stated that a hard date to end analog broadcasts is critical to provide the certainty required to complete the DTV transition. By including a hard date provision within the budget bill, the House has taken a critical step toward providing this certainty for manufacturers, consumers, retailers, broadcasters and all others invested in the transition."

The House bill does not contain language stipulating mandatory cable carriage of broadcast multicast channels, nor does it require HD terrestrial signals to be passed on to cable subs intact in HD (something NAB and others have worried about for years). Additional bills likely to pop up in early 2006 will attempt to address some of these issues.