The House voted today to delay until June 12 the deadline for transition of U.S. television signals from analog to digital transmissions.
On a 264-158 vote, the House agreed to delay the deadline beyond Feb. 17, 2009. The Senate had already passed the measure, which now goes to the president’s desk for signature.
The Bush Commerce Department reported in December it had run out of its $1.34 million funding to reimburse consumers for $40 converter boxes that would help those with "rabbit ear" antennas make the transition. With an estimated 6.5 million households – about 5.7% of the TV viewing public – still without converter boxes, President Obama suggested that the date be extended for four months.
"Thank you President Obama for listening," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said during the debate. "When you’re ready, get on line, but if you’re not ready, you will not be in the dark."
Republicans argued that the delay would be expensive – forcing television stations to continue broadcasting in both digital and analog – and rob first-responders of their ability to start using the freed-up analog spectrum to better coordinate disaster relief.
"There are plenty of ways to solve problems without a delay," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) Predicting that stations will have to pay an extra $141 million in added electricity costs, Goodlatte called the measure "an anti-stimulus. It will delay efficiency and growth in our country."
The years-long effort to shift the country’s television broadcasting system from analog to digital got a major boost from the 9/11 Commission, which noted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that first-responders needed more spectrum to communicate across agency lines. With TV broadcasters going digital, private carriers and public safety agencies bid in open auctions for the analog spectrum.
Democrats, who could not muster the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the delay last week, easily won the simple-majority vote needed Wednesday.
"The legislation passed by Congress provides more time for Americans to prepare for the DTV transition and will allow more time for the government to fix the coupon program," said David Rehr, president and CEO of the National Assn. of Broadcasters. "America’s broadcasters, which have spent the past decade preparing for this historic transition, are ready to make a successful switch."