Legislation to set DTV transition date faces procedural hurdle

Washington (DC) - In statements made to a private broadcasters’ association, the chairman of the US Senate Commerce Committee, Ted Stevens (R - Alaska), reaffirmed his committment to a January 1, 2009 "hard date" for the turnover of current VHF TV spectrum by broadcasters. The date would mark the formal transition by US broadcasters from analog to digital transmission.

But Stevens’ committee faces a procedural hurdle, in the form of a rule that prevents debates about non-budgetary matters - such as setting the dates for things - beyond a particular interval of time. For the Commerce Committee to debate the hard date issue, it must also find a way to spend some money in conjuction with the subject being debated. This National Journal story by Drew Clark explains :

Stevens and his chief telecom aide spoke in separate appearances before an event organized by Maximum Service Television, a nonprofit technical broadcaster group. Neither commented on whether a multi-casting mandate would be included in the DTV bill.

But the aide, Christine Kurth, said a subsidy for converter boxes to allow consumers to watch digital programming on sets that receive analog signals likely would pass muster under the so-called Byrd rule - named for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. "There is a strong argument that it is funds that are related to money being spent by the committee," Kurth, the Senate Commerce Committee’s deputy majority staff director, said.

The Byrd rule dates back to the 1980s when its sponsor chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee. Because reconciliation bills are immune from filibusters, the rule was written to prevent "extraneous matter" - primarily non-budget proposals - from being attached to a measure that required only 51 votes to pass, as opposed to the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster.

For the complete story of Stevens’ dilemma, go here... (National Journal’s Insider Update)

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