Senate Passes DTV Delay Bill

Just three weeks before the Feb. 17 DTV transition deadline, the Senate passed legislation Monday to move the deadline to June 12.

Next, it goes to the House, where the Commerce Committee canceled a markup and vote on its version of the bill that was scheduled for Tuesday morning (Jan. 27). It faces some opposition and could include changes that need to be reconciled with the Senate version.

The Senate bill, sponsored by incoming Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., allows viewers with expired coupons to re-apply for new ones, but it does not include any funding to alleviate the waiting list for the coupons.

As a delay becomes more likely, broadcasters will have to think more about the resulting complications and costs. Under the Senate bill, broadcasters are not required to delay the full-power analog shutdown.

The shift in date would force a fast change in message for the massive educational campaigns that have plugged the DTV deadline as Feb. 17.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she agreed to the bill partly because of Rockefeller’s promise not to seek an additional delay beyond June 12.

The compromise also includes protections for public-safety users with plans for spectrum that will be vacated by the transition.

Interim FCC Chairman Michael Copps, in an address to staff Monday, said that if Congress delays the deadline, he hopes it will also provide “resources” for the commission.

On the House side, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Commerce Committee, introduced separate legislation Friday to authorize $250 million for the converter-box coupon program, suggesting it could immediately enable the government to resume sending coupons to viewers. Barton has opposed the delay.

"If our work had not been interrupted by the Obama transition team, legislation could have been through the House and the Senate by now," Barton said in a statement Friday.