Digital TV transition postponed to June
WASHINGTON ” Congress is giving consumers four more months to prepare for the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting.
The House on Wednesday voted 264-158 to postpone the shutdown of analog TV signals to June 12, to address growing concerns that too many Americans won’t be ready in time for the Feb. 17 deadline that Congress had set three years ago. The Senate passed the measure unanimously last week and the bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The change is being required because digital signals are more efficient than analog, and ending analog will free up valuable space in the nation’s airwaves.
The delay is a victory for the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, who maintain that the previous administration mismanaged efforts to ensure that all consumers ” particularly poor, rural and minority Americans ” will be prepared for the switchover.
The Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not ready. People who subscribe to cable or satellite TV or have a newer TV with a digital tuner will not be affected.
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“The passage of this bipartisan legislation means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion,” the White House said in a statement. “We will continue to work with Congress to improve the information and assistance available to American consumers in advance of June 12, especially those in the most vulnerable communities.”
Wednesday’s vote came one week after House Republicans blocked the bill under a special fast-track procedure that required two-thirds support to pass. This time, the bill passed the House under a regular floor vote, which only requires a simple majority.
“If almost 6 percent of the nation’s households lose all TV service, I think most people would declare the digital TV transition to be a failure,” Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, said on the House floor Wednesday.
Opponents of a delay warned, however, that the move will confuse consumers, create added costs for television stations that would continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals for four more months and burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for the airwaves that will be freed up by the switchover.
“It’s time for us to move forward on this and keep our word to the American people,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., calling for the transition to proceed Feb. 17.
Democrats have tried to address these concerns by allowing broadcast stations to make the switch to digital signals sooner than the June deadline if they choose. It is unclear how many TV stations plan to take advantage of this option.
Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Commerce Committee, has raised concerns that interference issues could prevent some stations from turning off before June 12, because they are scheduled to use new frequencies for their digital broadcasts.