Rockefeller Announces Compromise on DTV Delay Bill

Incorporates Adjustments to Aid Broadcasters and Public Safety Officials

January 22, 2009

Washington, DC – This evening, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, announced a bipartisan compromise to the DTV Delay Act introduced last week. 
The amended DTV Delay Act will retain the extension of the digital transition date to June 12, 2009. Additionally, the agreement extends the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) auction authority to pay for the costs of the delay, reaffirms a broadcasters’ right to make the transition before June 12, permits the FCC to award vacant spectrum space to public safety officials, and fixes the converter box coupon program.
Senate consideration of the DTV Delay bill is expected next week.  Senator Rockefeller inserted the following statement into the Congressional Record in support of the DTV Delay Act:
On February 17, 2009—less than one month from today—our nation is scheduled to make the transition to digital television, or DTV.  On this day, full-power television stations across the country will stop broadcasting in analog and switch to digital signals.
The way I see it, right now we have a choice.  We can do the DTV transition right or we can do it wrong.  Doing it right would mean that as many as 21 million households across this country do not lose access to news, information and emergency alerts.  Doing it right would mean that every consumer who relies on over the-air television is aware of the steps they need to take to ensure continued reception and receive the assistance they need to prepare for the transition in their home.  And doing it right means that no one across this land wakes up on February 18 to find that their television set has gone dark.
But the shameful truth is that we are not poised to do this transition right.  We are only weeks away from doing it dreadfully wrong—and leaving consumers with the consequences.  It is no secret that the outgoing Administration grossly mismanaged the digital television transition.  The coupon program that was designed to help consumers defray the cost of converter boxes to ensure the continued functioning of their analog television sets has a waiting list of over two million.  This number will multiply to millions more in the weeks ahead.  Making a difficult situation even worse, we also face the frightful specter of converter box shortages.
On top of this, consumers are aware of the transition, but confused about its consequences.  One study suggests that while recognition of the transition is widespread, an alarming 63 percent have major misconceptions about just what steps they need to take to prepare.  Calling centers at the Department of Commerce and Federal Communications Commission are ill-equipped to deal with the avalanche of calls that are expected on February 17 and in the days and weeks after.  Consumers will be on their own, forced to navigate through the messy rubble of a botched transition.
I believe we can and should do better.  Doing better means more than cobbling together the failed efforts of the last Administration.  Doing better requires more attention and more resources.  But above all, it will require more time—to get the DTV transition right. 
This is why last week I introduced the DTV Delay Act.  I asked the Senate to delay the date of the transition from February 17 to June 12, 2009.  This will give us the time we need to develop an approach that puts consumers first and provides them with the assistance they need.
In the interim, I have been working with the distinguished Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Senator Hutchinson, to modify and improve the language of my earlier bill in an effort to broaden support and speed its passage.
I rise again today to introduce, now with my good friend Senator Hutchison, an amended version of the DTV Delay Act.  This version incorporates adjustments to help manage the transition in affected communities, including a provision that makes clear that despite this date change the transition needs of broadcasters and public safety officials will be respected. 
Let me be clear.  This legislation is not perfect.  But it represents a turning point—a start.  The record will reflect that I have spent years advocating a different course.  I voted against the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which set this hard date for the transition deep in the winter.  I voted against this bill in both the Commerce Committee and during its consideration by the full Senate because it fell short of a real plan for minimizing consumer disruption.  I voted against this bill because it failed to spend any resources building a national interoperable public safety communications network in the spectrum vacated by analog broadcasting.  Voting “no” was by no means a popular thing to do.  In fact, I was one of only three “no” votes in the Commerce Committee.
Last year, I introduced and the Congress passed the SAFER Act.  This legislation provided the Federal Communications Commission with authority to extend analog television broadcasting so that essential public safety announcements and DTV transition could be viewed in the days following the February 17 transition.  I now believe that this is not enough.  It is a meaningful bandage, but the situation we face requires more intensive care.
Mr. President, the DTV Delay Act will not fix all of the problems associated with the transition.  More work needs to be done to ensure that consumers are aware of the transition and get the help they need.  But it gives us all the time to do the transition right.  Time to develop a new plan, time to implement a new set of ideas to manage the transition, and time to make sure that in the switch to digital signals no American is left behind.  Senator Hutchinson and I are committed to making sure every American is able to manage the DTV transition without undue hardship.  We are working on initiatives to be included in the economic recovery package.  If we are able to make substantial progress on the administration of the transition this should be the last delay we have to seek.  Barring unforeseen emergencies, we should not have another delay.  I know the Obama Administration shares our commitment to getting this right so that we can avoid any further delays.
So we have a choice, we can proceed with the DTV Delay Act or weeks from today we can survey the wreckage of a failed effort to transition to digital broadcasting, complete with angry consumers, converter box troubles, and calling centers overwhelmed with consumer complaints.  Worse, should a tragedy strike, we face the prospect of millions of consumers without access to television, without a lifeline for news and information that may be necessary to protect them from harm. 
Again, we have a choice.  And I know what I choose.  I choose that we delay this transition because I believe we owe the American people a successful migration to digital television.  Today will be the second time that the Majority Leader has sought consent on the DTV Delay Act. We simply can’t keep coming back again and again to delay as time is running out.  We must act now because we will not have the ability to address consumer needs if we wait much longer.
I ask my colleagues to do the same.  I warn those who would stand in the way, who dismiss my sense of urgency, that should they force us to keep to our current course, it is the American public who will bear the brunt of their opposition.  We owe our citizens so much more than this.  So I ask my colleagues to join me and support the DTV Delay Act.