Barton Thinks He Can Pass 2006 Bill


Washington -- House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said Tuesday that he thinks he has the votes in the House to end TV stations’ transition to digital-only broadcasting Dec. 31, 2006.

“I think I have the votes in the House. I won’t swear it,” Barton said. “I think I got the votes in the House, and then we’ll work with the Senate and see.”

Barton told a National Association of Broadcasters audience here that he would introduce a bill soon with the 2006 deadline and other provisions dealing with making affordable converter boxes available to low-income households that don’t subscribe to cable or satellite.

Broadcasters oppose a hard date in 2006 because they say consumers aren’t ready to acquire millions of boxes to keep their analog sets working and because they don’t know whether cable will be allowed to downconvert their digital signals to analog at the headend.

Barton said his purpose is to provide certainty for ending the transition, which will allow the recovery of analog spectrum for reallocation to public-safety groups. Some of the spectrum will be sold at auction to broadband-wireless companies.

“I do think it is good public policy. I hope we can make it happen and do it in a way that doesn’t give you guys heartburn,” he added.

Current law, Barton said, extends the transition indefinitely and could leave consumers without over-the-air television once 85% of households in market have digital-TV sets or digital set-tops.

He said current law did not protect over-the-air viewers properly, adding, “I think that is bad public policy.”

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the same NAB forum he did not support an abrupt end to the transition.

“We can’t be that heavy-handed. It won’t work,” Reid said.

A broadcasting source said he did not believe Barton had a House majority to win passage of a 2006 deadline.