GOP scrambles to keep Feb. 17 DTV date

Thu, 01/15/2009 - 7:30am
Brian Santo

Republican lawmakers are rushing to draft a bill that would allocate more money to the exhausted analog converter coupon fund, as an alternative to pushing back the Feb. 17 deadline for the digital transition.

Joe Barton, R-Texas

Separately, the FCC was expected to vote on the so-called “nightlight” proposal at its meeting today, but the Commission dropped that item from its agenda. The rule would have given broadcast stations the option to keep using their analog spectrum for a short period in order to broadcast information instructing consumers about the transition.

As for a deadline to the transition, Democrats are advocating for a postponement to better educate consumers, and to get more coupons into the hands of those who might need them. Estimates of the number of consumers still either unaware of or unprepared for the transition range as high as 8 million.

Congressman Joe Barton, R-Texas, wrote a letter to President-elect Barack Obama arguing against the delay. Barton and his confederates expressed concern that the delay would harm public safety organizations, which are also waiting to use some of the 700 MHz spectrum that will be freed after the transition.

However, the largest allocation of spectrum for public safety use is the D block, which failed to attract the minimum bid in the spectrum auction conducted by the FCC last year. Since that spectrum remains unauctioned and unallocated, it is hard to credit Barton’s key claim.

According to Barton’s letter, “The transition is freeing broadcast spectrum for firefighters, police officers and other lifesavers and also providing them with $1 billion to equip themselves with the state-of-the-art communications gear that was so tragically lacking on 9/11.”

Barton also wrote, “Panicky talk of a delay is breeding stultifying uncertainty, and that an actual delay would be a monumental error in judgment that would damage the program and the public.”

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