Early 2009 set for end of analog TV

Congress gives its final approval to the digital television switchover and sends it to the White House for a presidential sign-off.

It's finally official: American households must ensure their televisions are equipped to receive solely digital TV broadcasts by Feb. 17, 2009.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday cleared the deadline for shutting down analog broadcasts. Part of a broader budget reconciliation bill that passed by a narrow 216-214 vote, the measure heads next to the White House for President Bush's signature.

The approved bill's language on digital television is identical to a version cleared by the Senate just before its winter recess. The broader bill had been bogged down because of disagreements among politicians over some of its other myriad provisions.

The 2009 deadline will not affect the vast majority of Americans who already subscribe to cable or satellite TV. But households relying on an antenna to receive "over the air" analog broadcasts--an estimated 15 percent of American households--must acquire a digital tuner to continue receiving TV shows.

The final legislation includes up to $990 million for a government subsidy program under which eligible households would be able to apply for up to two $40 vouchers to use toward buying digital-to-analog set-top converter boxes. According to industry estimates, those devices will likely cost between $50 and $60 by 2009.

The bill's approval won speedy praise from the High Tech DTV Coalition, a group of 19 trade associations and technology companies including AT&T, Dell, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Texas Instruments, which has been lobbying fervently for the transition.

"Now that Congress has freed the 700MHz band, we expect that both the giants of the tech sector and its talented rookies will have room to innovate--to the benefit of American consumers and our economy," said Janice Obuchowski, the group's executive director.

She was referring to the government's ultimate auction of the freed-up analog spectrum, which is scheduled to occur no later than Jan. 28, 2008 and is projected to raise about $10 billion to offset government spending. Technology companies have been because it has inherent scientific properties that could allow for more affordable, easily deployable broadband networks.

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