DTV Cash in Stimulus Bill

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The $798-billion economic stimulus plan agreed on last week includes $650 million to fund the digital-TV converter coupon program, moving a step closer to getting the money flowing again into the subsidy program.

House, Senate and Obama administration officials worked out an agreement last Wednesday night, and predictions were the bill would be approved by Congress late last week and head to the president for signing on Monday (Feb. 16).

The $650 million outlay includes cash the Federal Communications Commission said it needs to administer the change of the digital-television transition date to June 12 from Feb. 17.

The extension was spurred in part by the slowdown in the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program, due to the lack of access to funds.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's recently created Communications & Tehnology Subcomittee, said the stimulus package's billions was “a good start,” but added that “much more needs to be done,” including taking a hard look at the Universal Service Fund.

The stimulus program also would provide billions of dollars in grants and tax incentives for the buildout of broadband networks.

According to public interest group Public Knowledge, the stimulus agreement contains open network, interconnection and nondiscrimination provisions attached to the grant money, which would be distributed by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, with some help from the FCC in defining who qualifies for the money.

“The open network requirements were necessary because the public deserves benefits from the large sums of public money that will be distributed,” Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said in a statement. “We are pleased that Congress has taken the fundamental step of recognizing that open networks will help to create jobs and to stimulate economic activity in areas that are now unserved with broadband service.”