Senate Passes Second DTV Delay

January 30, 2009

Democrats are bound and determined to pass a DTV delay bill. The Senate last night unanimously passed another version of S-328 for the second time this week, after the House voted it down.

The Senate initially passed the bill on Monday to move the DTV transition deadline from a hard date of Feb. 17 to a four-month window starting then and extending to June 12. On Wednesday, House Republicans blocked it by averting a two-thirds majority. The vote was 258-168 in favor of the bill, but since it was considered under fast-track provisions, a majority was necessary. The second passage in the Senate allows House Democrats a do-over requiring only a simple majority.

Democrats are in full-court press at the behest of their new leader. President Obama’s transition team twice urged Congress to move the DTV end date after the fed ran out of money to help people buy digital-to-analog converter boxes. That $1.34 billion well ran dry earlier this month, leaving more than 2.5 million people on a waiting list for the $40 converter coupons. The converters are necessary for legacy analog sets to receive digital signals.

Democrats and the administration fear leaving too many people stranded without TV signals--as many as 6.5 million households, Nielsen estimates. A White House spokeswoman reportedly issued a statement urging the House of Representatives to pass the bill. A vote may be scheduled there as soon as Tuesday.

S-328 won the support of Senate Republicans because it allows stations that are ready to shut down Feb. 17 to do so. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) was integral in getting it passed, but she warned the administration that June 12 is her final answer.

“…Mr. President, I do want to serve notice that I will not support another delay in implementation,” she said in a statement. “By now, people, have had the notice and we’ve done everything to mitigate the cost of this transition. I’ve talked with Senator Rockefeller about that and I think we are in agreement that now is the time for people to get their coupons and boxes because on June 12 this transition will be made.”

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