House Sets Another DTV Delay Vote

With a little more than two weeks left before the Feb. 17 deadline for television stations to make the switch to digital broadcasting, U.S. House Democrats are scrambling to pass legislation pushing the deadline to June 12. After an unsuccessful effort to fast-track a DTV delay bill the week of Jan. 26, the House expects to give it another try Feb. 4.

Republican efforts to deep-six legislation delaying the digital television transition are likely to come to an end Feb. 4 when the U.S. House votes for a second time on the controversial measure. The proposal would move the deadline for broadcasters to switch to digital broadcasting from the current Feb. 17 date to June 12.
The week of Jan. 26, House Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to fast-track the DTV delay legislation. Although the bill pulled a majority vote, 258-168, the fast-track voting rules required a two-thirds majority for passage. The Feb. 4 vote will require only a simple majority.
"We anticipate that the House will pass a delay on DTV until June 12," White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said Jan. 30.
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 mass confusion.
The Senate has already approved the delay after compromising with Republicans by giving television stations the option to make the digital switch before the mandatory June 12 deadline and providing another $650 million for converter box coupons.
"A clear majority in Congress supports postponing the transition and providing assistance to the millions of households that are unprepared," Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said after Republicans blocked the vote Jan. 28. "I am very disappointed the House Republicans blocked the DTV extension today in the House. Their vote has wasted valuable time and will cause needless confusion for consumers."
House Republicans, though, continue to insist that the digital transition can be achieved by Feb. 17 and that the coupon program is not out of funds.
"The DTV converter coupon program is not out of money; only half of the $1.5 billion in the coupon program has been spent," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Jan. 27, urging her to call off the vote. "For the past three weeks, we have known exactly what we need to do in order to get rid of the backlog in requests for DTV converter coupons."
Barton insisted, "This delay is not necessary; nor is the $650 million in the stimulus needed." Barton introduced Jan. 23 a bill to provide additional coupons for the converter box program and to expedite delivery of the coupons.
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. The program allows for two $40 coupons per household to help offset the cost of digital converter boxes for nondigital television sets.