By Kim Hart, The Washington Post 1/28/09
The House today defeated a bill to delay the nation’s switch to all-digital television by four months. The action comes less than two days after the Senate unanimously passed a plan to postpone the Feb. 17 switch to June 12.
The defeat was a setback for the Obama administration and Hill Democrats, who are concerned that too many Americans are not ready to get digital programming. House Republicans have argued that postponing the date would cause confusion for consumers and cost millions for broadcasters who have planned to make the transition.
Congress three years ago mandated that all television broadcasters shut off analog signals and air only digital programming. As a result, viewers who rely on older analog TV sets and antennas to receive broadcasts will need to upgrade to a digital TV or install a converter box to continue watching television.
The Nielsen Co. estimates more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on over-the-air broadcast signals, or 5.7 percent of the population, are not prepared for the transition and could see their TV sets go dark next month.
The Obama administration had urged Congress to postpone the transition to give consumers more time to get ready. In a letter to Capitol Hill, Obama aides cited consumer confusion and budget shortfalls as two key reasons for a delay.
This month the Commerce Department hit a $1.34 billion funding limit for $40 coupons that help consumers pay for digital TV converter boxes, which cost between $50 and $80. Consumers who need coupons are now being placed on a waiting list until already-issued coupons reach their 90-day expiration date, making money available for additional coupons. About 3 million consumers are on the waiting list.
The Senate bill to delay the transition did not specify how the costs of a delay would be covered, which contributed to opposition in the House. Other lawmakers could still come forward with new bills to delay the transition or find other alternatives. But that would require Senate action and, with less than three weeks before the transition, time is running out.
- Thanks to NVRC, Fairfax