Looks like it’s mulligan time on Capitol Hill. As previously reported, the Senate passed a DTV Delay bill on Monday, January 26. However, also as previously reported, the House vote on a corresponding bill came up a tad short vote-wise on Wednesday, January 28.
Go on ahead, gang, why not tee it up again? Who’s looking, anyway?
Sure enough, in Congress as in life generally, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. So on Thursday, January 29, the Senate passed its DTV Delay bill . . . again. (Actually, the later bill – dubbed S. 352, not to be confused with S. 328 – included some modest, mainly cosmetic changes that do not alter the bottom line effect of the legislation.) The thinking appears to be that the House – when it gets back to work next week after the long Super Bowl weekend – will be able to take up the new bill again. This time, however, the House will presumably avoid the procedure that got it into a pickle the first time around – i.e., an expedited procedure that required a two-thirds vote which the bill’s sponsors couldn’t muster. But they did have more than a simple majority. So as long as the new bill is considered in a parliamentary process in which a bill can pass with a simple majority (and as long as the original “aye” votes hold), the DTV Delay should be back on track next week.
And none too soon, what with the February 17 deadline less than three weeks away.
Even if we’re all incredibly optimistic that the delay will pass, at this point it has not passed and, unless and until it does, February 17 will remain the date on which all affected TV stations should focus. That being the case, it’s important for the time being to stay the course, maintaining the schedule of DTV programming – PSAs, crawls, snipes, the works – as if February 17 is still the deadline, because it IS still the deadline. Since the industry as a whole has been marching toward that deadline for some time now, it should not be a big deal to keep at it for at least another week or so. (And if the deadline ends up not being extended, that just means we all stick to the schedule that we were already committed to.)
It seems to us that the real victims of this last-minute spasm of Congressional activity are the FCC staffers who must adjust to Congress’s whims. They have been struggling for years to meet the etched-in-stone February 17 date, and to their credit they have largely succeeded in getting all the players lined up to do so. But if the deadline gets extended, the staff will suddenly have to shift gears and figure out how best to factor the new deadline in. Good luck with that.
(Keep an eye out for a public notice from the staff providing guidance on what steps to take if the deadline does get extended.)