Friday, February 6, 2009

Digital TV switch postponed to June

By Joelle Tessler • ASSOCIATED PRESS • February 5, 2009 WASHINGTON — After weeks of debate, Congress is giving consumers four more months to prepare for the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting. The House voted 264-158 on Wednesday to postpone the shutdown of analog TV signals to June 12, to address growing concerns that too many Americans won't be ready by the Feb. 17 deadline that Congress set three years ago. The Senate passed the measure unanimously last week and the bill now heads to President Barack Obama. The change is being mandated because digital signals are more efficient than analog ones. Ending analog broadcasts will free up valuable space in the nation's airwaves for commercial wireless services and emergency-response networks. The delay is a victory for the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, who maintain that the previous administration mismanaged efforts to ensure that all consumers — particularly poor, rural and minority Americans — will be prepared for the switchover. The Nielsen Co. estimates that more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not ready. People who subscribe to cable or satellite TV or have a newer TV with a digital tuner will not be affected. Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the House Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, said a delay was needed to prevent the digital transition from becoming a failure. Opponents of a delay warned, however, that the move will confuse consumers, create added costs for TV stations that will continue broadcasting both analog and digital signals for four more months and burden wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting for the airwaves. "It's time for us to move forward on this and keep our word to the American people," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., calling for the transition to proceed on Feb. 17. Democrats have tried to address these concerns by allowing broadcast stations to switch to digital signals sooner than June if they choose, potentially freeing up spectrum for public safety early. But it is unclear how many TV stations plan to use this option. The National Association of Broadcasters welcomed the delay. The group said it would provide new television spots to promote the June 12 deadline, and work with stations to coordinate additional analog shut-off tests to raise awareness and help consumers prepare.

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