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Senate Approves DTV Date

Washington — The Senate approved a budget comprise package Wednesday that included the establishment of a Feb. 17, 2009 hard date for the end of analog TV broadcasting as the nation moves to an all-digital TV system.

The transition date was part of a bill aimed at cutting government spending over five years. The item just passed the Senate after Vice President Dick Cheney exercised his Constitutional role in the Senate to break a 50-50 tie.

The action, which also calls for spending up to $1.5 billion on digital converter box subsidies for analog set owners that rely on over-the-air broadcasts, followed House approval Monday of the same measure. However, the measure now must return to the House for a full vote, following some changes in other portions of the bill.

From there it will go on to the President to be signed into law.

Under the compromise plan, consumers who rely on over-the-air TV signals to receive television programming may request up to two $40 coupons for the purchase of converter boxes they can use to view digital stations on their old analog equipment.

Both bills removed earlier language that would have authorized cable operators to down-convert HDTV broadcast signals for subscribers with analog TV sets.

That item and other issues are expected to be addressed in future legislation.

The cable down-conversion item was taken out of the budget compromise actions because the Byrd Act prevents tacking on items that aren’t directly related to budget items.

Congress plans to auction off some of the analog TV spectrum returned by broadcasters for wireless communications services. Portions of the proceeds, minus the $1.5 billion converter box outlay and other items, will be used for deficit reduction.