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Senate Votes to Delay DTV Transition; House Plans Endorsement

Jan 26, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Congress is on track to delay the digital TV transition scheduled for Feb. 17 until June 12, with wheels in motion to send legislation postponing the transition to President Obama before week’s end.

Monday night, hours after the Senate unanimously approved delaying the transition, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., announced he was abandoning plans to craft his own DTV delay legislation and would instead seek an immediate House floor vote on the Senate bill targeting June 12 on Tuesday.
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“I am pleased that the Senate has acted to delay the deadline, which is our only hope of mitigating the negative impact on millions of consumers,” he said. “In light of the Senate action, I will work with the House Democratic Leadership to bring up the Senate bill for consideration Tuesday.”
Mr. Waxman’s comments reiterated Senators’ concerns Monday that Congress needed to act quickly.
“Delaying the upcoming DTV switch is the right thing to do,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., who proposed the delay in the Senate. “I firmly believe that our nation is not yet ready to make this transition at this time. The Senate acted responsibly to give the Obama administration time to attempt to bring order to a mismanaged process.”
The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said while she had serious concerns shifting the transition without a plan to inform consumers or deal with a shortage of converter box coupons, the legislation solves those problems.
“These changes will help consumers whose coupons have expired, and allow TV stations that are prepared, and ready, to move forward without the requirement of simulcasting,” she said, adding that Sen. Rockefeller had promised there would be no second delay.
A delay to the digital TV transition would be a setback, though a temporary one, to a trek that started when legislators put the nation on the road toward the next generation of TV in December 2005.
Digital TV was portrayed as a win for all. Consumers would get a DVD-like picture, with less static, no ghosts, the possibility of movie theater-like viewing, extra channels and new types of services. Meanwhile, because digital TV signal used less bandwidth than the old analog signals, the switch would provide billions of dollars’ worth of spectrum that could be returned to government control. Some could be used for better emergency communication but most could be sold, which the government promptly did for $19 billion.
That promise still exists, but today’s vote reflects Democrats’ concerns that there have been stumbles along the way and that if the transition date isn’t pushed back, millions of consumers could lose TV at midnight Feb. 17.
Democrats, including aides to President Barack Obama, have expressed concern that viewers still don’t know which sets do and do not need converter boxes and don’t know how to hook up and program their converter boxes. They also fear there are insufficient help centers available for people having trouble setting up their sets.
There also has been concern that viewers may not know be aware of signal patterns that could make some stations more difficult to see.
Finally, there has been concern from both Democrats and Republicans that not enough money was set aside to help defray the cost of converter boxes needed for TV sets not connected to cable or satellite. The government was issuing up to two $40 coupons per household, but that money has been used up, so it can only issue new coupons when existing coupons expire.
Nearly 2.6 million households are on the waiting list, and those coupons won’t be in consumers’ hands by Feb. 17.
Nielsen reported last week that 5.7% of the nation’s households are totally unready for the conversion, including 9.9% of African American and 9.7% of Hispanic households. In some markets the share of unprepared minority households is higher.
President Obama’s stimulus plan and the House version of that proposal includes more money for converter-box coupons.

45 Comments

  1. Delaying the transition to digital broadcasting for major stations from February 17 to June 12th, 2009 is ridiculous. Listen, the U.S. has tried to cut over to digital broadcasting (and also usher in High Defginition TV along the way, too) for more than a decade.
    The February 17th date is actually the third major attempt at a switchover; and it looked as if it was going as well as possible. The hardware is actually available in the marketplace, the service providers are ready to go, content is being produced/distribuuted digitally and with High Definition in mind, the awareness campaigns and government subsides were rolling, and pilot programs were conducted.
    So, another four months are not going to help those people who are already unprepared; these types of folks would be unprepared no matter what a date might be. The House and Senate should just let the February 17th date stand, and let local stations and service providers mitigate any small percentage of problem viewership afterward.

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