House defeats digital TV transition delay

January 28, 2009 2:36:11 PM PST
Bucking the Obama administration, House Republicans on Wednesday defeated a bill to postpone the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting to June 12 -- leaving the current Feb. 17 deadline intact for now. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The 258-168 vote failed to clear the two-thirds threshold needed for passage. It's a victory for the GOP members, who warn that postponing the transition would confuse consumers.

The House Republicans say a delay also would burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for the spectrum that will be vacated by the switchover, and create added costs for television stations that would have to continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals for four more months.

The defeat is a setback for the administration of President Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who fear too many Americans won't be ready for next month's analog shut-off. The Nielsen Co. estimates more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on analog television sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not prepared for the transition. People who subscribe to cable or satellite TV or have a newer TV with a digital tuner will not be affected.

"In my opinion, we could do nothing worse than to delay this transition date," said Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Commerce Committee. "The bill is a solution looking for a problem that exists mostly in the mind of the Obama administration."

Barton led the push to scuttle the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on Monday night.

The Obama administration had no immediate comment on the House vote.

Congress in 2005 required broadcasters to switch from analog to digital signals, which are more efficient, to free up valuable chunks of wireless spectrum to be used for commercial services and interoperable emergency-response networks.

But the Obama administration called for the transition date to be postponed after the Commerce Department earlier this month hit a $1.34 billion funding limit for coupons to subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers. The coupon program allows consumers to request up to two $40 vouchers per household to help pay for the boxes, which translate digital signals back into analog ones for older TVs. The boxes generally cost between $40 and $80 each and can be purchased without a coupon.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the arm of the Commerce Department administering the program, is now sending out new coupons only as older, unredeemed ones reach a 90-day expiration date and free up more money. The NTIA had nearly 2.6 million coupon requests on a waiting list last week and those people will not receive their coupons before Feb. 17.

To find out more about the conversion to digital, including videos on how to make sure your TV is ready, check DTV.abc13.com.

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