Congress approves delay of digital-TV transition

The House of Representatives votes to delay the national transition to digital broadcasting. The bill now awaits the president's signature.

Updated at 2:25 p.m. PST with comments from lawmakers and regulators.

With less than two weeks left before the scheduled national transition to digital broadcasting, Congress on Wednesday approved a delay of the DTV switchover.

The House of Representatives voted 264 to 158 to push the transition back from February 17 to June 12. The Senate unanimously approved the delay last week.

House Republicans blocked an earlier attempt at delaying the transition, saying pushing back the date would create confusion for consumers and burden television stations that would have to continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals. The initial vote on the measure required a two-thirds majority to pass under "fast-track" rules, but Wednesday's House vote required only a simple majority.

The bill now awaits the president's signature.

Democrats, including President Obama , were concerned that consumers were not prepared for the transition and that millions of people would be left without television service if it were not postponed. Nielsen reports that more than 6.5 million U.S. households are still not prepared for the transition.

Furthermore, millions of consumers are still waiting for coupons for digital converter boxes from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which ran through the $1.3 billion allocated for the coupons. A Senate panel last week approved an additional $650 million for the coupon program as part of its so-called stimulus package.

"It is unfortunate that Congress had to take additional action on this issue, but the prospect of leaving millions of consumers in the dark was simply unacceptable," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of a congressional Internet panel, said in a statement after Wednesday's vote. "This was a foreseeable problem and should have been anticipated and acknowledged by the Bush administration long ago. However, the Bush administration simply left us with insufficient time to make the needed adjustments on a national basis without this short, one-time delay."

The bill allows television stations to switch from analog to digital signals before the June 12 deadline if they are ready to do so. The vacated analog spectrum will be allocated to public safety services.

"I know we will do all that we can to minimize the inevitable disruption and confusion this transition will cause," said Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell. "In the meantime, if you need a converter box, get it today and hook it up today and start enjoying the benefits of digital television today."

 

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