In the pre-holiday rush, Senate and House conferees hammered out their differences to agree on a final version of the long-pending DTV legislation. However, before the agreement can become law, the House must re-vote on several minor changes to a larger budget reconciliation bill that passed the Senate only after a tiebreaker vote by Vice President Dick Cheney. At press time, it was unknown what the House would do.
The House vote on the budget bill early last week passed 212 – 206. Because House members are home for the holidays, it is not known when the budget legislation containing the DTV sections will be revisited or whether there will be new attempts to derail the legislation.
Assuming the broadcast provisions hold and the overall budget bill passes the House again, the legislation sets Feb. 17, 2009, as the hard date for the shutdown of analog terrestrial television broadcasting in the United States.
Earlier, the House chose Dec. 31, 2008, for the shutdown, while the Senate choice was April 7, 2009. The Feb. 17, 2009, date was designed to appease viewers, coming after the NFL's Super Bowl and before the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournaments.
Another compromise was made on funding to subsidize consumers in upgrading older analog television sets. Up to $1.5 billion was appropriated for purchasing the digital-to-analog set-top converters. Qualifying households will receive up to two $40 coupons to use toward purchase of converter boxes. Viewers receiving a subsidy will have to pay about $20 out of pocket toward the cost of a converter box.
The digital television legislation is tied to the budget reconciliation bill because the sale of analog spectrum is part of a larger plan to reduce the federal deficit. It is expected that spectrum auctions will raise at least $10 billion for government coffers.