Stevens expects bipartisan DTV bill
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) expects that the Senate Commerce Committee will be able to put together a bill to push forward the transition to digital television that will earn support from members of both parties. If he is able to do that, it will be in contrast to what has happened so far in the House. Stevens told the Federal Communications Bar Association that the bill will be similar to the version circulating in the House, and although it's not firm yet, he thought the Senate would probably go along with a 2009 hard deadline for the end of analog transmission. The biggest sticking point in the House has been the issue of those left behind on that date with only a blank analog screen. Stevens said his committee will be looking at options to address this problem, and put forth the notion that the sooner we stop the sale of analog-only consumer receivers, the better. Stevens later noted the complexity of issues being handled by both his committee and the FCC, and had pointed words about what he sees as an unnecessary hurdle. Seeing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in the audience, he noted the need for cooperation between the two, only to be reminded the no more than two commissioners can meet with senators in private at one time. Stevens said he called that "stupidity."
Sen. Stevens on the DTV transition:
Now, I'm a firm believer that these hearings we hold only have merit once we know the questions to be asked and once we have a record that can be made, that's a positive record that supports the goals that we agreed upon. So, these listening sessions have been very helpful to us so far. We've completed the listening sessions on the digital television transition. We're going to put together now a bipartisan bill and both staff, minority and majority, will be working on that. It will be, I believe, quite similar to the House staff draft that has being circulated. We believe that we'll probably put a hard date in the bill of 2009, we're not sure of that yet. But, we're working on options for some type of a program to solve the problem of set-top boxes for the analog sets that will still be in the hands of many people who cannot afford to replace them right away. I personally think that we ought to put our legislation that requires some sort of a warning on analog sets sold after a specific date. These analog sets have every kind of description on them possible to indicate that they are digital, but they are not. And, they're all made outside of the United States. I think we've got to find some way to convince people not to sell analog to customers who think they're getting digital sets. We hope that we can move up the date of when analog sets can no longer actually be sold in the interstate commerce in this country and the current deadline is June 1, 2007, for TV sets larger than 13 inches to include digital tuners. One of the great problems is to develop a program that funds the analog translators in rural areas so they can receive and transmit digital signals. This has not been really solved by us yet. I do think we will have some suggestions on that."
Sen. Stevens on the Sunshine Law:
And, we have, I'm delighted to see Chairman Martin and the members of the Commission here today. We have tried to work with them on a bipartisan basis, but after I suggested that to the Chairman, he reminded me of the Sunshine Law, which prohibits the Commission from meeting with Congress except two at a time. As a matter of fact, when they come to a hearing only two of them can be in the room at one time. So, they have to sort of change seats as their time to testify comes up. I do think that that is a real burden. As a matter of fact, as I told the Chairman, I don't think the Commission could meet with the President together. That is not sunshine, that is stupidity as far as I'm concerned.