RealTime IT News

House Approves DTV Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives Friday gave television stations three years to clear out of their analog spectrum and begin broadcasting exclusively in digital. Lawmakers have earmarked the vacated spectrum for first-responder use and wireless broadband providers.

The legislation was attached to the contentious Budget Reconciliation Act passed by the House in the early-morning hours.

The bill requires all stations to cease analog broadcasting on Dec. 31, 2008, and authorizes $990 million for a digital-to-analog converter box program for over-the-air viewers.

The subsidies will not come out of taxpayer dollars but from the estimated $10 billion an auction of the vacated spectrum is expected to raise.

The U.S. Senate earlier this month set an April 7, 2009, deadline for the broadcasters to go digital along with a $3 billion set-top box subsidy program.

The House and the Senate are also in disagreement over funding for first-responder equipment to take advantage of their new 24 MHz of spectrum on the 700 MHz band. The return of the broadcasters' analog spectrum for first responders was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

The House wants to spend $500 million for new first-responder equipment while the Senate thinks $1.2 billion will be needed. The House contends many first responders already have radio equipment to communicate over the spectrum.

Differences between the two bills will be resolved in a joint House-Senate conference committee.

The legislation approved Friday also obligates broadcasters, cable operators, retailers and television manufacturers to engage in a consumer education campaign regarding the digital television transition and mandates all new TV sets 13 inches or more must include a digital tuner by March 1, 2007.

Television sets without digital tuners must be labeled to inform consumers that the set won't receive a digital signal.

In 1996, Congress set a digital television transition date of Dec. 31, 2005. Under pressure from broadcasters, Congress changed that hard date with a complicated formula that many think would delay the transition for years.

The broadcasters said earlier this year they now support a hard deadline for the transition to digital broadcasting.

The House set-top box subsidy allows each American household to obtain up to two $40 coupons that can be applied toward the purchase of converter boxes. Consumers will be required to affirmatively request coupons. The coupons will be available from Jan. 1, 2008, to Jan. 31, 2009.