Ensign Amendment Would Cut Box Subsidy

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Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is said to be preparing an amendment designed to slash funding earmarked for set-top boxes to keep analog-TV sets working after TV stations are forced to send only digital signals.

Ensign’s office would not confirm any details. “We could have something along those lines,” Ensign spokesman Jack Finn said Tuesday, urging a reporter to call him Wednesday for an update.

The Senate is scheduled to debate a budget bill this week -- a broad measure that includes $3 billion in set-top subsidies and an April 7, 2009, termination date for analog TV.

Ensign, according to consumer groups and a broadcast-industry source, supports the net $830 million for set-tops that the House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted last week, along with a Dec. 31, 2008, analog cutoff.

On Tuesday, AARP, the Consumer Federation of America, the Consumers Union and United States Public Interest Research Groups sent every U.S. senator a letter urging rejection of efforts to reduce the $3 billion.

“If Congress, rather than the marketplace, sets the pace of the transition, it should compensate consumers for the unnecessary costs and inconvenience that decision imposes on them,” the letter said, naming Ensign as leading the call for a funding cut.

The letter added that the $3 billion would “compensate many, though not all, households adversely affected by the digital transition.”