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House Approves DTV Delay, Sends Bill to Obama

Feb 4, 2009  •  Post A Comment

The House of Representatives, by a 264-to-158 vote, today ended the debate over whether the country is ready for the digital TV transition with a clear “no.”
It sent to President Obama legislation for a “one-time-only delay” that would postpone the digital transition from Feb. 17 until June 12.
For TVWeek’s comprehensive coverage of the digital television transition, visit the DTV Switch Navigator page.
President Obama had asked for the legislation and is expected to sign the legislation later this week.
White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said the delay “means that millions of Americans will have the time they need to prepare for the conversion.”
“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,” she said.
The House action came amidst warnings today from Democrats about the number of households that could fully or partially lose TV if the transition went forward as scheduled.
“It’s clear to me that the only way to avoid a massive disruption is to delay the transition,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s telecom committee.
He cited Nielsen research suggesting 5.7% of the nation’s households are totally unready for the transition.
“If almost 6% of the nation’s households lose all TV service, I think most people would declare the digital TV transition to be a failure,” he said.
Rep. Boucher also cited concerns about the unavailability of government coupons for DTV converter boxes—there are 3.2 million requests for coupons on a waiting list. He also questioned the readiness of the call center provided by the Federal Communications Commission to offer technical aid to households. He said the call center “is in virtual disarray” with long waiting times and numerous hang-ups.
He said the delay would give the FCC time to put together a transition that is “properly structured.”
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., also warned about what might happen without a delay: “Without this legislation, millions of televisions will go dark.”
Republicans argued the delay wasn’t necessary and would be expensive.
“The [Democratic] majority is trying to fix a problem that I don’t think really exists,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee. He suggested people could be waiting until the last minute to hook up their converter boxes, but would have little trouble doing so.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said, “It is time for us to move forward on this and keep our word to the American people.”
She said she’s concerned about the costs and the energy that would be used in having stations air both an analog and digital TV signal for four more months.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., called the legislation “an anti-stimulus bill.”
“I bet if we took a poll, 98% or 99% are ready,” he said. “If you are connected to cable, you are ready. If you are connected to satellite, you are ready. If you have a digital TV, you are ready.”
Mr. Goodlatte said there are “plenty of ways” to immediately fix the coupon program, including some means to allow converter-box purchases made now to be reimbursed later.
The decision to delay the DTV transition creates the immediate need to inform consumers of the change. It also raises the question for TV stations of whether to move ahead anyway.
The FCC said today that 276 stations have indicated plans to transition to digital by Feb. 17, although they could reconsider as a result of the delay.
Acting FCC chairman Michael Copps said he is pleased at the delay because it reflects his view that the country could not have moved forward Feb. 17 “without unacceptably high consumer dislocation.”
“The additional four months provided by the law affords urgently needed time for a more phased transition, including a consumer-friendly converter-box coupon program, stepped-up consumer
outreach and support—particularly for vulnerable populations—and dealing with coverage, antenna and reception issues that went too long unaddressed,” he said.
In a statement, National Association of Broadcasters President-CEO David Rehr praised the congressional action.
“We appreciate members of Congress for their leadership and swift action in ensuring viewers get continued access to free, over-the-air television,” he said, adding that new public service messages promoting the new transition date would quickly be distributed to stations.
In a statement News Corp. said it was pleased with the action.
“Through the actions of Congress and the Obama administration, American consumers will be given additional time to prepare for the digital television transition,” the statement said. “We will work diligently toward ensuring that the new transition date of June 12, 2009, is a successful one.”
(2:20: Updated with White House statement)

23 Comments

  1. Proving once again that you can contact Congress all you want, but ultimately they will do whatever they want.
    I can see the layoff notices coming from major broadcasters already.
    The NAB President is, of course, completely clueless and is sucking up to Congress lest they pass some other measure that will cost their member stations millions of unanticipated costs at a time revenue losses are the norm.

  2. For some reason, June 12th, which is on a Friday seems like almost the worst possible day. Why would you want to shut off any remaining analog channels on a Friday?
    Anyway, in some cases it may not matter anyway. Most broadcasters in our area in Kansas are still shutting off the analog channels on 2/17/09 anyway while some others have already turned off their analog signals months ago.

  3. Some of the OKC stations are shutting off the analog signals on the 17th as well. Not before doing two more tests on the 9th and 16th.

  4. I cannot believe this…the people who allegedly went for change in last November’s election instead got more of the same whinging, nebulous “it’s not my fault this is a mess” from the new nanny state. There are still going to be people on June 12 who will be whining about not being ready. Did nobody, back in the 90s when this whole goat rodeo was conceived, not think that a wholesale technological change would not cause a ripple effect for viewers like this? Has nobody done, until now, research on the number of households who do not have broadband or cable access (except the broadband and cable companies? I honestly believe that Congress and the entire gang of idiots who voted for the delay ought to be ejected from inside the beltway and out in the hinterlands for an extended period of time and try to have to deal with the consequences of decisions like these. Finally, who is going to compensate the public broadcasters who may now have to pony up money they don’t have (and are not likely to be able to generate) to keep their analog transmitters running longer?
    Disappointment here is not a strong enough emotion for the way that this administration and the past two have handled this issue.

  5. What difference does any of it make? The stations that are ready are going to just turn off the analog spigot anyhow, if they didn’t already.

  6. “I bet if we took a poll, 98% or 99% are ready,” he (Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va) said.
    Well, we did take a poll, they’re called the Nielsen’s, Bob, and that’s not the numbers they came up with.
    Also, I find it incredible that the Stimulus package DID have additional coupon funding to the tune of $650m, and all the GOP is complaining it’s a wasteful line item (see http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/02/gop.stimulus.worries/index.html). But here they are saying they’d fund it. Make up your freaking minds!
    (All this stupidity aside, I’m with the crowd that says the delay will be worse than just doing it now, but these people are still morons.)

  7. So instead of one clear deadline, we’ll have individual station deadlines all over the map. Try communicating that one in a DTV education campaign. Absolutely insane.

  8. I swear…Sometimes I think congress knows what middle America goes through, and what everyone needs…but what this delay teaches us is that they are still as out of touch as ever. Frankly, some people need to be forced to change. What will a few days without TV do to people if they’re waiting to get a converter box or a new TV? While I think more money should have gone to the coupon program when it “ran out of funds”, delaying the transition will do nothing but add MORE confusion to the process.
    All these ads about the transition to digital coming in February will have to be reshot or at least re-edited. Plus, with some stations being allowed to switch on the 17th anyways, won’t people be even more confused? With only two weeks until the original date, that’s like a high school student knowing the SATs are in October, and studying for them for years, and preparing for them. But two weeks before hand, after paying the fees, taking the prep courses, studying, and applying for colleges, the school says that not enough people have signed up and the test is postponed until spring, although all fees will be kept and you’ll have to take the prep courses and apply for colleges again (including application fees). It’s not fair in this situation, and not fair for consumers in the DTV switch. If they couldn’t get it right the first time, why does 4 months make any difference?

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