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Senate Draft Seeks April 7, 2009 Hard Date

Analog signals would be shut down April 7, 2009 under a draft bill circulating in the Senate. The “Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005” also has provisions to fund a converter box subsidy, low-power and translator digital upgrades, emergency communications and hurricane assistance -- all out of spectrum auction proceeds. The draft, just five pages, contains no details on how much money would be designated to any of the aforementioned items.

It does establish Jan. 28, 2008 as date for spectrum auctions to begin. Auction authority is extended from Sept. 30, 2007 (from when the original deadline was set at the end of 2006), to Sept. 30, 2009. In accordance with the Senate Commerce Committee’s reconciliation directive to come up with $4.8 billion for the treasury, the bill orders that amount to be deposited there Oct. 2, 2009. It also requires the FCC to assess $10 million in user fees for spectrum licenses.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up the draft Oct. 19, after which it must be submitted to the Budget Committee for inclusion in the reconciliation bill.

There’s no multicast must-carry provision in the draft, much to the delight of the cable lobby.

“We support the priority placed on achieving a hard date by which to complete the transition to digital TV,” said Brian Dietz, spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. “We’re also pleased that the staff has chosen to refrain from including mandatory multicasting which would injure consumers and threaten diversity in programming choices. We’re looking forward to working further with Congress as these issues unfold.”

However, broadcast sources point out that Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Commerce Committee, previously indicated that non revenue items such as multicast must-carry could not be included in a budget reconciliation bill a la the Byrd rule. Stevens said a “companion bill” would cover additional DTV transition items.