Senate Passes DTV Delay Bill

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The United States Senate has passed a bill that would delay the U.S. nationwide conversion to digital television from a mandated cutoff on February 17, 2009, to a new deadline of June 12, 2009, in order to give consumers more time to make the switch and obtain $40 vouchers good toward the purchase of digital TV converter boxes for analog televisions.

Although the Senate’s passage of the bill doesn’t mean the DTV deadline has been changed, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to support the move, and the new Obama administration has already come out in favor of delaying the transition.

The idea behind putting off the digital TV transition is to give the estimated 20 million Americans who rely solely on over-the-air television broadcasts time to obtain converter boxes to receive digital television signals. The U.S. government has been offering $40 vouchers to defray the cost of those converter boxes; however the voucher program ran out of money, and has been issuing new vouchers only as older, unused vouchers expire. Although many urban television viewers and folks who’ve purchased new TVs in the last few years are ready for the transition, many poor and rural viewers rely on over-the-air broadcasts and have not been preparing for the transition. Some viewers will also need to set up new or enhanced antennas to pull in DTV signals, since old-style analog antennas don’t do a particularly good job.

The February 17, 2009, cutoff date has been heavily publicized for more than two years; some industry watchers have claimed changing the date will only create more consumer confusion. Others have decried mismanagement of the converter voucher program, and claim a significant portion of the U.S. population isn’t prepared for the conversion. Analog television “going dark” would mean those viewers can’t receive news, emergency alerts, or other important information…plus, Oprah might take a hit in the ratings.

Shutting down analog television broadcasts will also free spectrum in the 700 MHz band, which has already been auctioned off by the FCC—and largely snapped up by communications providers—to develop so-called 4G mobile broadband services. Delaying the digital TV transition will extend licensed to the 700 MHz space bought up by companies like Verizon and AT&T.

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