Congress Delays Analog Shutoff
February 4, 2009
After initially rejecting moves to delay the DTV transition date until
June, the House voted today to do just that. This afternoon, the House
took up the DTV delay bill passed by the Senate last week and gave its
approval--with 264 members voting in favor and 158 opposing; 10 members
of Congress did not vote on the bill.
As soon as President Obama signs the bill, a foregone
conclusion since his administration requested the delay, consumers will
have an additional 116 days to get their digital television house in
order. The new last day for full power analog broadcasting is June 12. The vote was largely on party lines, with only 23 Republicans
voting in favor of the bill and 10 Democrats opposing it. Backers of
the delay claimed six million over the air households risked being
unready on Feb. 17 and also cited a bankrupt NTIA converter box coupon
program as reasons for adding three months to the transition. The
program ran out of funds in December and is
building a 3 million-plus waiting list for the vouchers.
Opponents argued that extending the date was unnecessary and would only confuse citizens further.
For broadcasters, it will be a case of deciding what’s more
important: risk losing potential audience and alienating those that
aren’t ready by pulling the plug early and saving money; or holding
fast to the June 12 deadline with aging analog transmitters.
Nothing in the bill will prevent stations from making the
transition early, so long as they follow the current procedures for
early shut-off of analog broadcasting. However, much will need to be
done--and quickly--to update PSAs and marketing campaigns to alert
consumers to the new deadline.
According to the FCC, 1,089 stations, representing 61 percent
of all full power stations are broadcasting on their post transition
digital channel and could shut off their analog signals on Feb. 17
without causing interference. Most of the 700 remaining full power
stations could terminate their analog signal without interference if
they continue to operate on their pre-transition digital channel and
move to their post-transition channel when the transition ends or if
they could move to their post-transition channel after they shut off
their analog signal, providing an engineering analysis from the FCC
proved no harmful interference to nearby signals. Such cases would be
made on a case-by-case basis. As of the first week of February, 276 stations have told the
commission that they plan to shut off their analog signals on the
current transition date of Feb. 17. A number of communities, as well as
the state of Hawaii have already done so.
With the vote, the DTV converter box coupon will be extended
and households whose coupons expired without being redeemed can request
a new coupon. Under the previous rules, expired coupons were forfeited
and could not be replaced. The vote was welcomed by Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.
"The additional four months provided by the law affords urgently-needed
time for a more phased transition, including a consumer-friendly
converter box coupon program, stepped-up consumer outreach and
support--particularly for vulnerable populations—and dealing with
coverage, antenna and reception issues that went too long unaddressed,”
he said. According to the National Association of Broadcasters, which
supported the delay, more than 1,000 full-power stations in some 200
television markets have already conducted DTV consumer readiness tests
to help raise consumer awareness about the transition.
Public safety groups, which plan to use the forfeited analog
TV channels for emergency communications once the DTV transition is
complete, have expressed concern about the delay but still hope to gain
allocations, if not access, to the channels prior the new June deadline.
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