Senate on DTV bandwagon

McCain, Lieberman present digital bill

WASHINGTON — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) plan to introduce today a digital television transition bill calling for Dec. 31, 2008, as the cutoff date for analog transmission — the same date specified in draft legislation circulating in the House.

The McCain-Lieberman bill also calls for providing a $463 million subsidy to help consumers make the transition. The House draft has yet to include a subsidy as a result of disagreements over the provision.

McCain and Lieberman are jumping in front of Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), the Senate Commerce Committee chairman who has been the leading Senate voice on DTV; he plans to introduce his own bill later this month. McCain, principal author of McCain-Lieberman and the former Commerce Committee chairman, has said he intends to work with Stevens.

Committee will hold a hearing June 29 on the DTV transition. Both Stevens’ bill and McCain-Lieberman will be considered.

McCain, who has been an advocate for allocating more analog spectrum for emergency responders since the Oklahoma City bombing, feels he needs to introduce his own bill to insure the DTV transition continues apace, a congressional aide told Daily Variety. McCain has promised public safety officials in the past that he would help get them more spectrum. McCain is in no way trying to upstage Stevens, the aide said.

Split over subsidy

House Republicans and Democrats have split over how large a subsidy the federal government should provide to consumers who will be most affected by the transition. Government researchers have said about 21 million households rely exclusively on over-the-air transmission for television. A box that will convert digital signals to analog is expected to cost about $50. Republicans want to cover the costs only for low-income households — about 10 million, costing about $500 million. Democrats want the government to cover the cost for all 21 million, which could cost $1 billion or more by some estimates.

At $463 million, McCain-Lieberman is in line with the House Republican position.

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