Digital-TV Delay Bill to Get Second Chance in House

Published January 30, 2009

| Associated Press

Congress is going to take another crack at delaying the analog TV shutdown by four months.

The House is expected to take a second run next week at a bill that would give consumers more time to prepare for the transition from analog to digital television broadcasts.

If it passes, the bill heads to the president, who will sign it, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

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House Republicans on Wednesday defeated the proposal to delay the analog TV cutoff — currently mandated to be Feb. 17 — to June 12. But that vote happened under a special fast-track procedure that requires two-thirds support to pass.

While Wednesday's 258-168 tally failed to clear that threshold, it showed that House Democrats do have enough votes to pass the measure with a regular floor vote, which requires a simple majority. The bill is expected to go to the House floor during the middle of next week.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill to delay the transition Monday night, and then again Thursday night to incorporate minor changes.

The new administration and many Democrats on Capitol Hill argue that a delay is needed to ensure that millions of consumers — particularly poor and elderly Americans — do not lose TV reception when broadcasters shut off their analog signals. (Consumers who subscribe to cable or satellite TV service or who own a TV with a digital tuner will not be affected.)

Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that a delay would confuse consumers, burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for the slices of the airwaves that will be vacated, and create added costs for TV stations that would keep broadcasting both analog and digital signals for four more months.

The Obama administration called for the transition to be postponed after the Commerce Department hit a $1.34 billion funding limit for the $40 coupons that subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers. The boxes translate digital signals back into analog ones for older TVs to process.

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 more than 3.2 million coupon requests on a waiting list as of Wednesday.

A separate measure, part of the economic stimulus proposal working its way through Congress, would add $650 million in funding for the coupon program.

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