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Digital TV Delay Defeated in House

28 Jan, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

With 20 days to go before the switch to digital television, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated a bill Jan. 28 that would have postponed the analog shut-off to June 12, assuring for now that millions of Americans unprepared for the analog switch-off will be without TV in less than three weeks.

However, the bill could be amended and be back before Congress for another vote, House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told The Associated Press.

The bill had passed through the U.S. Senate with a unanimous vote late Jan. 26, and while it would not have allocated any more funding to a $40 consumer coupon program for digital converter boxes, it would have allowed people with expired coupons to get new ones. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is running the coupon program, announced earlier this month that it had run out the $1.34 billion Congress allocated to it. More than 2.5 million people are on a waiting list for the coupons, and the Nielsen Co. estimates 6.5 million American homes are unprepared for the switch.

President Barack Obama has come out in support of a delay, however, House Republicans argued a delay would prove costly to broadcasters who have prepared for all-digital TV Feb. 17. PBS said Jan. 26 that a delay could cost it more than $20 million, since public broadcasters have already made arrangements to have their current signals expire in February.

“In my opinion, we could do nothing worse than to delay this transition date,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told The Associated Press. “The bill is a solution mostly in the mind of the Obama administration.”

Some businesses, including Verizon Communications and AT&T and the nonprofit Consumers Union, have come out in support of a delay, while the Consumer Electronics Association, the Federal Communications Commission, and trade group CTIA – The Wireless Association have urged Congress to move forward with the current transition date.

Peter Fannon, Panasonic technology, government and regulatory policy VP, expressed some caution over any potential delay.

“This date was set up years ago, and a lot of people have put a lot of work into this,” he said. “I think most observers agree that no matter what date you set, there are going to be people who are not ready.”

Fannon said there appear to be enough converter boxes for those homes unready for the digital transition — those without cable or satellite, who are still getting their TV via analog broadcasts on TVs without digital tuners.

Best Buy spokesman Brian Lucas said the retailer is well prepared if consumers flock to stores in February for digital converter boxes.

“Right now, we’re doing well on the digital converter boxes,” he said. “We’ve been fixed on that Feb. 17 date for a while now, and we feel we’ve done everything we can to be prepared.”


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