Update: February 2009 Is Compromise Cut-off

Before Congress adjourned for its holiday recess last week, the Senate managed to pass House-approved legislation that sets Feb. 17, 2009, as the cut-off date for analog broadcasts. Earlier last week the House agreed to the same date, which is a compromise between both chambers.

Technically, the measure must once again go back to the House for a final nod before it heads up Pennsylvania Avenue for the President's signature since some minor language in the spending-cut bill (not associated with DTV) had been changed in the Senate version. (The original cutoff had been Dec. 31, 2006.)

The legislation still sets aside slightly less than $1.5 billion for converter set-top boxes and other assistance for analog set owners who are not subscribers to digital cable or satellite services. How many terrestrial-only U.S. sets and homes would qualify today depends on who you ask: NAB says upwards of 70 million sets still rely solely on antennas, while the CEA says the number is far less because a large number in that category is dedicated only to DVD and video game use.

Broadcasters are grateful that lawmakers deleted an item in the bill when it was in a House-Senate conference committee that would have allowed cable operators to down-convert HD programming to SD for a period of at least five years.

However, the celebration may be a bit premature: Senate Commerce Chair Ted Stevens (R-AK) has indicated he will introduce new legislation in early 2006 to specifically address some of the provisions excluded from this year's DTV legislation, which could include the issue of cable and HD down-conversion, which, in turn, NAB will continue to fight.