Senate OKs DTV Border Fix Act

The bill would allow stations on the U.S.-Mexican border to seek FCC permission to continue simulcasts of analog and digital signals up to four years beyond the February 2009 DTV transition deadline

The Senate last week passed the Digital Television Border Fix Act of 2007 (S.2507) that would set up a way for broadcasters along the U.S.-Mexican border to continue broadcasting in analog and digital after the Feb. 17, 2009, DTV transition.

The measure would establish a means for border stations to apply to the Federal Communications Commission to seek permission to stay on the air with their analog transmissions for years following the nationwide DTV transition deadline. The act, introduced last year by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Companion legislation, H.R. 5435, has been introduced by Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) in the House.

The Senate approved the bill to give broadcasters along the border the ability to effectively postpone the completion of their DTV transition “so border residents’ access to important public safety information is not threatened,” Hutchinson said in a press statement announcing the measure’s passage.

The bill would allow stations within 50 miles of the border to seek FCC permission for continued simulcast of analog and digital transmissions for up to four years after the DTV deadline.

According to Hutchison, research shows the number of DTV converter box coupons requested and redeemed by border residents is “extremely low.” Without the legislation, slow uptake of converter boxes “could pose an unnecessary and avoidable public safety risk,” she said in the statement.

A report from the “El Paso Times” quotes Kevin Lovell, general manager of KVIA-TV in El Paso, TX, as saying most English-language stations along the border oppose the legislation. In the case of KVIA, simulcasting in analog and digital — something many English-language border stations would feel compelled to do for competitive reasons if the measure becomes law — will cost “well into the six figures,” according to Lovell.