With 2.5M households still without television services, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and three co-sponsors have taken a bill introduced in the Senate by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) back in January and introduced it into the House. It would extend the duration and product range of the coupon program, among other things.
The bill is H.R. 2867 The Digital TV Transition Fairness Act. DeFazio’s co-sponsors include Bob Filman (D-CA), Joe Sestak (D-PA) and Phil Hare (D-IL). The bill was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce 6/15/09. Sanders’ Senate version, H.25, went to Commerce 1/7/09.
The bill instructs the head of NTIA to expand the coupon program beyond converter boxes, to include both indoor and outdoor antennae, antenna installation if necessary, and the cost of any other component necessary to receive over-the-air digital broadcast. It takes into account the fact that consumers will often need both a box and an antenna. NTIA can set coupon values up to $80.
In markets where there has been certified loss of coverage area by at least one station after the transition, MVPDs are instructed to offer a super-basic tier made up only of broadcast, non-subscription local market stations. Broadcast retransmission fees will not apply to this tier.
The bill seeks $700M; $600M would go to NTIA to fund coupons, and $100M would go to the FCC to administer the MVPD basic tier, as well as further consumer outreach and educations efforts.
RBR/TVBR observation: If the left-behind population doesn’t get up-to-speed fairly rapidly, this bill may gain some traction, even though many Republicans think Congress has spent too much on the transition already. But it takes time to move these things through Congress, and a lot more time to get them into operation once they hit the NTIA and FCC. We have to think this effort is a little late in getting started.