The U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 4 voted 264-158 to move the digital television transition from Feb. 17 to June 12, joining the U.S. Senate in approving a 115-day delay for television stations to begin exclusively broadcasting in digital.
Democrats cast 241 votes for the digital TV transition delay while House Republicans voted solidly against the delay with 148 casting negative votes. The legislation now heads to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the delay into law.
"This delay is absolutely necessary and will be for one time only," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Telecom Subcommittee. "We are now less than two weeks from the Feb. 17 digital television transition date, and millions of households remain unprepared."
Boucher said the most recent Nielsen survey showed 5.7 percent of the viewing public, or 6.5 million households, are "totally unprepared" for the digital transition. In order for consumers to receive digital television signals, consumers who solely depend on over-the-air signals for television reception must buy a digital television set or a digital converter box for their analog sets. Consumers who use cable or satellite service are not affected by the change.
Prompted by a Jan. 5 announcement by the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) that funds for the $1.34 billion subsidy digital converter box program were exhausted, Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate immediately began clamoring for a delay, insisting that sticking to the Feb. 17 deadline would create consumer confusion.
"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," Boucher said. "It's clear that the only way to avoid a massive disruption affecting 5.7 percent of the TV viewing public is to delay the transition and provide the funding to assure that, when it occurs, it occurs smoothly."
The DTV delay bill does not include any funds for additional digital converter boxes, but the House stimulus package passed Jan. 28 includes $650 million for more coupons. Democrats also said the Federal Communications Commission's call centers to handle the digital TV transition question were woefully ill-prepared.