Senate Approves DTV Delay
The U.S. Senate voted
Jan. 26 to delay the transition to digital television to June 12, setting in
motion what is expected to be swift action by the U.S. House to endorse the
same Senate legislation that that dumps the original Feb. 17 deadline for
television stations to switch from analog to digital broadcasting.
If, as expected, the House passes similar legislation, over-the-air television consumers will have until June 12 to purchase either a digital converter box or a digital television or to connect to a cable or satellite service.
Under the terms of the Senate legislation, television stations have the option of switching to digital broadcasting before the June 12 deadline and the consumer digital coupon program is extended. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration Jan. 5 announcement that funds for the coupon subsidy program had been exhausted prompted then President-elect Barack Obama to call for Congress to delay the DTV transition.
"Delaying the upcoming DTV switch is the right thing to do. I firmly believe that our nation is not yet ready to make this transition at this time," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement shortly after the Senate action. "The Senate acted responsibly to give the Obama Administration time to attempt to bring order to a mismanaged process. I urge our colleagues in the House to pass this bill and I know [House Energy and Commerce] Chairman [Henry] Waxman is working on it."
Waxman's committee had scheduled a Jan. 27 hearing on the DTV delay, but with Rockefeller's bill gaining Senate passage, Waxman scratched the hearing and put Rockefeller's bill before the House for a Jan. 27 vote.
"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," Waxman said in his own statement. "In light of the Senate action, I will work with the House Democratic Leadership to bring up the Senate bill for consideration Tuesday."
According to a Nielsen survey conducted a year ago, 14.3 million U.S. households rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts. The NTIA said, based on consumer self-reporting, 12.6 million households that rely on over-the-air television have requested coupons. As of Jan. 4, though, more than 24 million households have requested approximately 46 million coupons, with about 18 million coupons actually having been redeemed.
To date, 52.5 percent of coupons requested have been redeemed and more than 13 million coupons have expired.
Under the Senate bill, the expiration of all outstanding or yet-to-be issued coupons would be extended to Sept. 15. The program allows for two $40 coupons per household to help offset the cost of digital converter boxes for nondigital television sets. Consumers with digital television sets or televisions connected to cable or satellite boxes will not be affected by the transition.