House Tries, Tries Again – and Comes Up With June 12

Word just in from Capitol Hill indicates that the House has passed the DTV extension bill by a resounding 264-158 vote (wait – aren’t those almost the same numbers that came up short in last week’s vote? Ahh, the miracles of the parliamentary process . . . ). The House reportedly accepted the language adopted by the Senate in S. 352, which provides for a We-Really-Mean-It-This-Time final date of June 12, 2009, after which analog television broadcasting will be gone. It also authorizes NTIA to re-issue DTV converter coupons to households which failed to redeem their coupons within the original 90-day life of the coupons. And, perhaps most important to many licensees who have been gearing up to dump their analog operations as of February 17 (which used to be the We-Really-Mean-It deadline), Congress’s action does not require stations to continue analog broadcasting all the way to June 12. Rather, analogs can be terminated prior to that date “so long as such prior termination is conducted in accordance with the Federal Communications Commission’s requirements in effect on the date of enactment of this Act, including the flexible procedures established in the Matter of Third Periodic Review of the Commission’s Rules and Policies Affecting the Conversion to Digital Television (FCC 07-228, MB Docket No. 07-91, released December 31, 2007).”

Next stop for the bill – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where the President must affix his John Hancock on the dotted line in order to complete the process and make it all legal. The smart money says that that is likely to happen as soon as tomorrow, February 5.

Then, of course, the real fun will begin, as the unfortunate folks at the FCC have to slam the brakes on the February 17 express train (with less than two weeks to go before that particular deadline, thank you very much), switch that train over onto the spur labeled June 12, and get it cranked back up to full speed again. The FCC’s staff, which has done an incredible job so far in the transition process, deserves better than this.